In this article I’ll be giving you a glimpse of some of the most emblematic figures of the British silver screen. More specifically, I’ll be focusing on iconic actresses with long-standing careers in the British industry.
5. Charlotte Rampling
Charlotte Rampling’s long career spans 50 years and it includes films of various genres. She is perhaps most well-known for her controversial roles, such as those in The Night Porter (1974) and Heading South (2005).
I must say I didn’t watch those particular films, so my appreciation of her acting ability is based on her roles in such films as The Damned (1969) – which was part of Luchino Visconti’s German trilogy – and The Duchess (2008) in which she played the Countess Spencer, mother of Keira Knightley’s character Georgiana Spencer. The Duchess was directed by Saul Dibb, the director of Suite Française (2015), and that is evident since it was a beautiful and enjoyable film, although the story was sad and upsetting. I also enjoyed her performance in the BBC miniseries Restless (2012) – it was a gripping series set in the 1970s. In Restless Charlotte Rampling plays the older Eva, a Russian spy at the time of WWII, and Michelle Dockery portrays her daughter.
4. Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith is another British icon. She most recently starred in the successful and acclaimed TV-Drama Downton Abbey as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, but she’s been an actress for a very long time. She is perhaps best known for starring in A room with a View (1985), and in the unforgettable Harry Potter saga as Minerva McGonagall. More recently she starred with Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015). I personally appreciated her portrayal of Jean Horton, a soprano singer, in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet (2012), a film which portrayed the life of the residents of a Retirement Home for Musicians, exploring the comedy in their elderly bickering and highlighting their performances in pursuit of their love for music. Maggie Smith has a unique charisma and, to me, is one of the best British actresses alive.
3. Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren is an old-school British actress who I had the pleasure to see for the first time in the most acclaimed film of 2006, The Queen, which earned her a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role – I personally found this film to be outstanding and I really think it deserved all its praise. Mirren was particularly brilliant in her portrayal, and I don’t think anyone could choose a better actress for the role. I also enjoyed watching the film Inkheart (2008) in which she had a secondary role as Elinor Loredan; she was hilarous and, as always, excellent. I’m also planning to watch her latest film A Woman in Gold (2015), about Maria Altman a Jewish refugee who reclaims a painting by Klimt, which was stolen by the Nazis at the time of WWII. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed by her performance.
2. Venessa Redgrave
She’s one of the most important actresses in the British cinema industry. She was born into the Redgrave family – a family of actors – and has a long and prolific career. In all of her roles she showed devotion, talent and sometimes courage depending on the roles she was asked to perform. Her importance in the British spotlight cannot be denied and I’m always happy to watch both the classics and her latest performances. Among her more recent roles are Atonement (2007), as the older Briany Tallis, and Letters to Juliet (2010), but the list goes on so I’m sure anyone can find a film well suited to their tastes.
1. Judi Dench
I chose to put Judi Dench at the top of my list of British Icons simply because she’s beautiful, talented and seemingly nice – although I may be biased since I have a personal preference for her. I appreciated her peformance in the TV- Series Return to Cranford (2007) not to mention her countless performances on the silver screen in films such as Tea with Mussolini (1999) and in Pride and Prejudice (2005) as the haughty and unpleasant Lady Katherine de Bourgh. I also enjoyed her role in the James Bond movies Casino Royal ( 2006) and Skyfall (2012) in particular, as Bond’s boss M. My favourite Dench role is that of Ursula in Ladies In Lavender (2004) alonside Maggie Smith and Daniel Brühl as I found her performance to be delicate and sweet. She is undoubtedly a passionate and dedicated actress and I admire her both for her career and her personality. She’s a true gem of British cinema.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.