Wilson was born in Ashford, Surrey, and raised with three older brothers in Shepperton, Surrey. She attended Notre Dame School and sixth form at Esher College. As a teenager, Wilson worked as a model, and went on to study history at the University of Nottingham, graduating in 2003. While at Nottingham, she was also involved in student drama at New Theatre (Nottingham). She graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in July 2005. Afterwards, she co-founded Hush Productions.
She is a grand-daughter of the novelist and MI6 officer Alexander Wilson
rior to her role in Jane Eyre, Wilson had one professional screen credit, in Suburban Shootout, a situation comedy.
In 2006–7, she filmed the second series of Suburban Shootout, a new Agatha Christie's Marple mystery for ITV, and Stephen Poliakoff's BBC television drama Capturing Mary as the young Mary.
In 2007, she appeared in Gorky's Philistines, playing Tanya, at the National from May until August 2007. She also narrated the audio book of Lauren St John's novel "The White Giraffe".In June 2007, Wilson presented the 2007 Lilian Baylis Awards.
Other projects in 2007 included the narration of an audio book of the children's novel Dolphin Song by Lauren St John;a guest appearance in the sitcom Freezing as Alison Fennel (transmitted on BBC2, 21 February 2008); narration of the documentary The Polish Ambulance Murders (transmitted on BBC4, 5 February 2008); and the portrayal of a mentally ill doctor in the dramatised documentary The Doctor Who Hears Voices (transmitted on UK Channel 4, 21 April 2008).
From 23 July to 3 October 2009, she appeared as Stella in the Donmar revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. On 15 November 2009 AMC Television and ITV premiered the 2009 TV miniseries remake of The Prisoner, in which Wilson played the Village doctor, "Number 313."
She played "Queenie" in an adaptation of Andrea Levy's Small Island which aired on BBC1 in December 2009,and also aired in the United States on PBS in 2010.
In 2010, she appeared in the UK psychological police drama Luther as Alice Morgan with Idris Elba
From 4 August to 8 October 2011, Wilson starred in the title role of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse alongside Jude Law. Her performance prompted The Guardian to devote an editorial to Wilson's "courageous, edgy and compelling talent".
Wilson's performance in Jane Eyre earned her four nominations for Best Actress awards in 2007, from the Broadcasting Press Guild, BAFTA television awards.
Satellite Awards and the 2008 Golden Globes. She also came second in a BBC viewers' poll for Best Actress of 2006.
Wilson won the 2010 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse and won the 2012 Olivier Award for Best Actress for her performance as the title character in Anna Christie, again at the Donmar Warehouse.
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