Today: February 24, 2024

British Actresses

Looking back, in all successful acting careers a defining moment can usually be identified where the actress/actor gives a standout performance and the world exclaims that a new star has been born.

Looking back, in all
successful acting careers a defining moment can usually be identified where the
actress/actor gives a standout performance and the world exclaims that a new
star has been born.

From then onwards that person’s career will change
dramatically for the better: offers to star in big productions will rain on
them, Hollywood studios will fight to put them under contract and, perhaps,
most importantly, they will have the freedom to be selective in which roles to
accept and which to confidently turn down.

Breakthrough roles can
be leading roles in smaller productions or smaller parts in bigger productions.
Below we take a look at Ten British Actresses, now considered A list, and
uncover where their defining breakthrough moment came.

Gemma Arterton: Strawberry Fields in Quantum of
Solace (2008)

Despite a fairly short
appearance, Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields does not go unnoticed in the last
James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, starring alongside Daniel Craig. Landing a part as a Bond girl is a classic career
launch platform for young, talented and beautiful actresses and Gemma took full advantage of this career opportunity. The filmmakers
also thought very well of the native of Gravesend, Kent, as she was considered
worthy enough to reference one of the great Sean Connery James Bond movies Goldfinger by lying naked and dead in a hotel room with her body covered in
oil. Arterton would go on to star in The Boat That Rocked, The Disappearance of
Alice Creed, in title role, and Clash of the Titans.

Sienna Miller: Tammy
in Layer Cake (2004)

Like Arterton, Miller
also launched her career alongside a smooth Daniel Craig. Perhaps not the most outstanding breakthrough
performance on this list it, nevertheless, meant Craig couldn’t take his eyes
off Miller’s Tammy dancing and smoking a cigarette in a club, neither could
producers and fans – especially male ones after her infamous change into
suspenders and bra getup – even her fellow actors were taken
with Miller. The next year she won a small part in Alfie featuring Jude Law and
she starred next to Heath Ledger and
Jeremy Irons in Lasse Hallström’s Casanova. Her roles as the love interest
continued to keep fans watching as much as her tumultuous private love life
kept the press busy. In only two
years, between 2007 and 2008 she featured in six productions including Steve Bucemi’s Interview and The Edge of Love alongside Keira Knightely.

Rachel Weisz: Lily Sinclair in Chain Reaction
Rachel Weisz was first noticed
playing the part of Dr. Lily Sinclair alongside Keanu Reeves and Morgan
, in action packed 1996 movie, Chain Reaction. After the film she
was signed for up for five parts in less than one and a half years, including
leading roles in Michael Winterbottom’s
I Want You and Biban Kiedron’s Swept
from the Sea
before starring in the huge Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy where she was nominated by
Empire for best British Actress of the year. Her career reached a new peak with
her part in The Constant Gardner which
won her an academy award for best supporting actress.

Thandie Newton: Shandurai
in Besieged (1998)

Thandie Newton
received her first career nomination for Best Theatrical Actress at the Black
Reel Awards for her interpretation of Shandurai in Bernardo Bertolucci’s romantic melodrama Besieged. Before the film
she had struggled to gain recognition and had only had a few bit parts in films
and TV movies. The great Italian director and author of The Conformist and The
Last Tango in Paris, made Newton the
protagonist of his film despite her being fairly unknown. Her performance under
Bertolucci’s wing made her visible to everyone and the
same year she was called by Jonathan
to star in his Beloved where she earned another two acting
nominations. What followed is well known: by Tom Cruise’s side in Mission Impossible 2 and her most critically
acclaimed performance as Christine in Crash

Samantha Morton: Hattie
in Sweet and Lowdown(1999)

In this beautiful
comedy written and directed by Woody Allen,
Samantha Morton plays Hattie, an innocent and sweet mute girl who has a love
affair with Emmet Ray (Sean Penn).
Amidst the swing of 1930s American jazz Morton plays Hattie masterfully and is
in no way outshined by Sean Penn’s over-the-top acting as a very arrogant but
lovable musician. Morton fits perfectly within Woody Allen’s distinguished
style of filmmaking and her acting earned her the London Film Circle Award for
British Supporting Actress of the Year, as well as a nomination for Best
Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. This was the start of a very
successful Hollywood career for Morton and she went on to make films such as Minority
Report and In America where she was
nominated for another Academy Awards.

Helena Bonham Carter: Lucy
Honeychurch in A Room With a View

Helena Bonham Carter’s
first big screen role at 19 years of age was playing Lucy Honeychurch, a
wealthy but close minded young British lady. On a vacation journey to Firenze
in Italy she and her mother, played by Maggie
, discover a completely different cultural reality from the one in
Britain at the end of the Victorian era. Bonham Carter brought to the table a
formidable performance displaying a fresh and enterprising acting talent,
holding her own alongside all the affirmed actors surrounding her in James Ivory’s film, including Daniel
Day Lewis
, Judi Dench and Julian Sands. After this performance
Bonham Carter featured in an average of almost two production per year,
starring in critically acclaimed films such as Margaret’s Museum , The Wings of
the Dove, Fight Club and Sweeney Todd.

Tilda Swinton: Orlando in Orlando
In an interesting film
that crosses different centuries and different sexes Tilda Swinton plays
Orlando. The film is critically recognised as one of the milestones of feminist
filmmaking. Swinton changes sex but remains the same person as she embarks on a
journey through British history amid a very admirable attempt by director Sally Potter to question the
connotations of femininity and masculinity in different societies through the
ages. Swinton’s performance earned her the Seattle International Film Festival
Award for Best Actress and the Thessaloniki Film Festival Award for Best
Actress. From there onwards her career went uphill as she starred in many very
successful productions such as The Deep End, Adaptation, The Chronicles of
Narnia and winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton also
starring George Clooney.

Carey Mulligan: Jenny
in An Education (2009)

At the age of 24 Carey
Mulligan stared in the leading role of British production An Education. Not
only did she manage to look at ease on screen but she pulled off a remarkable
acting performance, too. The public and critics instantly fell in love with
her. Lone Scherfig’s film is a beautiful and elegant portrait of youth and
aspirations. Carey plays a 16 year
old Jenny who is due to start her studies at Oxford University but meets
charismatic David Goldman. The much older man, using his charm, persuades her
to follow him and seduces her parents into approving of their relationship.
David, however, turns out to be not what he appears. The film was nominated for
Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Carey Mulligan’s acting earned
her a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. The success of
Mulligan in An Education won her roles in Nicolas
Winding Refn
’s acclaimed Drive (main picture) and a part as Daisy Buchanan in an
adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s The
Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrmann and due to be released
next year.

Keira Knightley: Jules
Paxton in Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

Bend it Like Beckham
is probably one of the most successful films of its generation and it launched
the career of not only Knightley but Parminda Nagra also. Knightley started her
acting career as a child and was only 17 when she co-starred in Gurinder Chadha’s movie that was to propel her into the big time. In the film
Knightley stars as a teenager who plays in a small football team. After seeing
Jess, a 17 year old Indian girl, Jasminder, playing football in a park she
convinces her to join her football team. Jasminder agrees despite the
disapproval of her family. The two girls, even though coming from different
backgrounds, find out they share many things: they have the same wild passion
for football, they have similar issues with their parents/families and they
both have only one idol: David Beckham. One year after Bend it Like Beckham
Knightley acted alongside Johnny Depp
and Orlando Bloom in the Hollywood
blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as well as
continuing her career at home in British productions such as Love Actually and Pride
and Prejudice.

Kate Winslet: Juliet Holme in Heavenly
Creatures (1994)

Heavenly Creatures is
probably the definition of the breakthrough film. It was not only the film that
launched Kate Winslet but also Peter Jackson’s career. It was the
first of Jackson’s films to be nominated for an Oscar and was universally
acclaimed by critics for its genuine innovations and special effects. It was in
fact the film that allowed Jackson
go on and make The Lord of the Rings. Winslet plays Juliet Holme in her first
role on the big screen and the second role of her career. At the tender age of
19 she blew critics away with the maturity, energy and wit of her acting. It
was a first glimpse of her now acclaimed acting talent and it earned her an Empire
Award for Best British Actress, the London Film Critics Circle Award for
British Actress of the Year and the New Zealand Film and TV Award for Best
Foreign Performer. This was just the start of a series of great performances
from the native of Reading. Later she would win an Academy Award for best
Actress in 2008 for The Reader.

Heavenly Creatures will be released in a remastered edition on
DVD and BluRay September the 12th.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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