Britain, over the years, produced many talented actresses who charmed the movie-goers. In this top ten entry, I am going to talk about the greatest British actresses of all time.
Her real name is Helen Lydia Mironoff. Her father was of Russian origin and her mother was English. Mirren started acting since her school years. She studied at St Bernard’s High School for Girls and there she took part in school plays. She then attended New College of Speech and Drama. At the age of eighteen, she became a stage actress for National Youth Theatre. As a stage actress, she gave some memorable performances. In 1970, director/producer John Goldschmidt produced a documentary film on her titled Doing Her Own Thing. At that time, Mirren was working with Royal Shakespeare Company and was a well known actress. Aside from working in stage, Mirren also worked in movies. Some of her major movies are- Age of Consent, Excalibur,O Lucky Man! Caligula, The Long Good Friday,andWhite Nights.
Judi Dench is not known for her physical beauty but when it comes to acting she is considered to be one of the most prominent actresses in Britain after the Second World War. Born in 1934, Judi Dench started her acting career as a theatre actor at Old Vic Company in 1957. In the next few years, she appeared in several plays of William Shakespeare such as, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth. During this time, she also went to work in movies and for her performance in movies she bagged BAFTA Award in the most promising new comer category. Dench made her movie debut in 1964 by appearing in The Third Secret.
In 1968, Dench appeared in a in a musical titled Cabaret. Here, he played the role of Sally Bowles and had to sing. Initially, she was quite nervous but after singing in the play she got positive feedback from the audience and reviewers. Judi Dench appeared in numerous movies but she is mainly known for her work in theatres. Most of us remember her as the boss of famous spy James Bond in Bond movies. She took over the role of ‘M’ the boss of James Bond in 1995 and since then she appeared in six movies.
Any list of top British actresses will be incomplete without Julie Andrews. This beautiful Opera singer, actress and author is considered to be one of the most talented female British actresses the world has ever seen. I first saw Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins back from 1991 and I immediately fell in love with the movie. Another great movie of Julie Andrews is The Sound of Music. In both these movies she played the role of a nanny. Julie Andrews was born at Surrey in England. She started taking Opera singing lesson at a very young age. It was her step father Ted Andrews who noticed her singing talent and took her to Lilian Stiles-Allen, a noted concert singer, for training.
In 1946, Julie Andrews made her radio debut where she sang a duet with her stepfather on a BBC show. As she grew up, she started to appear with her parents on stage on a regular basis. Mary Poppins was the first feature film of Julie Andrews which was released in 1964. For her performance in the movie she won Academy Award in the best actress category. In the next year, she also received Academy award nominations for her performance in The Sound of Music. Both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music are two of the highest grossing movies of all time.
Vivien Leigh is known both for her beauty and acting talent all over the world. She is ranked 16th among on American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Stars list. Vivien Leigh was born in Darjeeling which is now located in West Bengal. Her father was an army officer and mother was Roman Catholic. Leigh’s parents instilled interest in her about theatre and acting. Vivien Leigh’s first movie was Things Are Looking Up. She then appeared in The Mask of Virtue. The movie received excellent reviews and this made her quite popular among the movie going audience.
Vivien then did several stage plays along with Laurence Olivier with whom she also had an affair. In 1939, she went to America to work for the movie Gone with the Wind. This movie established Vivien Leigh as a big star. However, it is a tragedy that a brilliant actress like her suffered from bipolar disorder. She also earned a reputation of becoming an actress difficult to work with which forced hard to stay out of acting. Despite her all shortcomings, she is definitely one of the most talented and successful British actresses of all time.
The first thing you will notice about Rachel Weisz is her beautiful face. For her beauty, she was labeled English rose. Weisz was born in Westminster. She grew up in a family that appreciated arts and literature. In 1994, she made her film debut with Death Machine. Then, in 1996, she appeared in a thriller movie called Chain Reaction with Keanu Reeves. In 1999, Weisz appeared in historical movie Sunshine. In this movie, she played the character of Greta. That same year, she got international fame by appearing in the adventurous movie called The Mummy opposite Brendan Fraser.
The movie did a business of $415,933,406 world wide. This was followed by a sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001 which also did very well. Some of the other major movies of Weisz are- Enemy at the Gates, About a Boy, The Shape of Things, Runaway Jury, Constantine, and definitely may be My Blueberry Nights, and Fred Claus.
Thandie Newton was born in London to a Zimbabwean mother and British father. From a very young age, she was interested in dancing and she enrolled into Tring Park School for the Performing Arts but a back injury finished her dancing career. During this time, she started auditioning for films and debuted in Flirting (1991). While working in this movie, she became close friend with famous Australian actress Nicole Kidman. In 1994, she appeared with Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. She then appeared in a Franco-American historical drama film Jefferson in Paris. In this movie, she played the role of Sally Hemings. For her performance in the movie, she was offered a role in Beloved in 1998. In this movie, she worked with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.
Newton gained international fame by appearing in Mission: Impossible II. Here she played the female lead opposite Tom Cruise. She was supposed to work in Charlie’s Angels but Lucy Liu was chosen in her place. Thandie Newton got married to English writer/director/producer Ol Parker in 1998. Accordingly, the couple has two daughters Ripley and Nico.
Whenever Kate Winslet’s name is mentioned to someone the first movie that would come to anyone’s mind is Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, it established her as a big star in Hollywood. Kate Winslet was interested in acting from a very young age. At the age of eleven, she appeared in a TV commercial for a kid’s serial. She also studied in a Redroofs Theatre School in Berkshire and took acting lessons.
Winslet began her acting career in British television in 1991 and over the next couple of years she appeared in various situational comedies and stage plays. Then at the age of seventeen in 1994, she debuted in Heavenly Creatures. Instead of playing pretty girl character, she always showed interested in playing bold and unconventional characters. For this reason, throughout her filmography you will not see many big budget movies but more independent movies that challenged her abilities as an actress.
Emma Thompson is another talented British actress, comedian and script writer. One of her most successful movies was Sense and Sensibility. Thompson’s father was a director and mother was an actress. She started acting at a very young age. Along with her studies, she continued acting on stage. Because of her acting talent, her agent signed her up even before she completed her graduation. She played the female lead in a musical titled Me and My Girl which brought her instant fame as an actress. Throughout the 80s Thompson mainly appeared in TV series.
Thompson’s first major film was The Tall Guy which was released in 1989. It was a romantic comedy where she appeared with Jeff Goldblum. In 1992, she appeared Howards End. For her performance in the movie she received Oscar in the best actress category. In 1996, Thompson got her next Oscar for Sense and Sensibility. In addition, she wrote the script of the movie and it was directed by Ang Lee.
According to Al Pacino, Julie Christie is “the most poetic of all actresses.” Born to a tree planter father and painter mother, Christie spent his childhood at Chabua, Assam, India. She then went to England for higher education. In 1957, Christie started out as a professional stage actress but she was not interested in theatres. In 1961, she got her chance in the movies. That year, she acted in science-fictional TV series A for Andromeda. The next year, she appeared in a comedy titled Crooks Anonymous. In this movie, she played the girlfriend of the protagonist. That same year, she also appeared in another comedy The Fast Lady. Seeing her performance, the producer of James Bond wanted to take her in the movie Dr. No but later she was dropped for Ursula Andress.
Julie Christie gained international fame in 1965. That year, she appeared in Darling. For her performance in the movie, she won Academy award in the best actress category. This was followed by Doctor Zhivago and Young Cassidy. Doctor Zhivago was commercially successful all over the world and Christie became very famous. Till date, Doctor Zhivago is the eighth highest grossing movies of all time.
Kristin Scott Thomas:
Kristin Scott Thomas has French nationality and she can speak French fluently. She worked in both English and French movies. To the English speaking audience, she is known for her performance in Bitter Moon,Four Weddings and a Funeral, and The English Patient. In The English Patient, Kristin played the role of Katharine Clifton, wife of a British couple who falls in love with a Hungarian noble Count played by Ralph Fiennes. The English Patient received both critical acclaim and box office success and Kristine won Academy Award nomination in the Best Actress in a leading role category. Kristine also worked in French cinema in 1980s. Some of her major French movies are Tell No Oneand I’ve Loved You So Long.