Top Ten British Actors

By Saturday, June 2, 2012 10 , , , Permalink 0


n the second of my features to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and her sixty years on the throne, here are my Top Ten British Actors/Actresses. Some of these won’t come as any surprise to regular readers, but hopefully I’m not too predictable with my choices.



[framed_right img=]

Relatively new to the acting world compared to others on this list, Carey Mulligan first caught my attention when she stared in one particularly brilliant episode of Dr Who: Blink, the infamous episode written by Steven Moffatt which saw the debut of the Weeping Angels (some of the best Whovian monsters of all time). Since then, her career has come on leaps and bounds, especially after her role as Jenny in the multi-award winning An Education in 2009.

Over the past year Mulligan jumped into A-lister territory with her incredibly emotive performances in both Drive and Shame respectively; dealing with difficult subject matters with such conviction.

It seems like 2012 is going to be just as successful as previous years for Mulligan, as she is set to star in Baz Lurhrmann’s highly anticipated adaptation of The Great Gatsby (I’m not sure how I feel about one of my favourite books being adapted into 3D for Christmas) as Daisy Buchanan alongside Leonardo di Caprio and Tobey Maguire. 2013 is set to see Mulligan in the Coen Brothers new features Inside Llewyn Davis alongside Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund, as well as talks about her being reunited with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for I Walk With the Dead. I have every faith that Mulligan will soon be one of Britain’s proudest exports.

What to Watch: Never Let Me Go, Shame, Drive

What to Avoid: N/A

What to Look Forward to: The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, I Walk With the Dead



[framed_right img=]

The youngest person to accrue six Academy Award nominations, Kate Winslet exploded into the world of cinema back in 1994 as Juliet Hulme in Heavenly Creatures; one of Peter Jackson’s first films based on the Parker-Hulme murder in New Zealand; where two girls killed one of their mothers. Shocking, surreal and sometimes sexual, Heavenly Creatures was the perfect debut for Winslet who received strong critical acclaim.

Referred to the best English-speaking film actress of her generation, Winslet has starred in some incredibly affecting movies; The Reader and Little Children especially. Even though I tend to not pay much attention to directors and actors’ personal lives, Winslet’s battles with the media were much publicised over here when I was younger: her disagreement with GQ magazine digitally enhancing photographs of her in particular. An incredibly positive role model; Kate Winslet is successful actress at a healthy weight which should be celebrated.

Last year it was confirmed that Kate Winslet would star alongside Josh Brolin in a film adaptation of Labor Day (a novel by Joyce Maynard) directed by Jason Reitman. Perhaps more excitingly; Winslet is starring in Kenneth Branagh’s (who featured in my favourite British directors article) forthcoming brilliantly entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a writer Julie who decides to write about the residents of Guernsey’s wartime experiences. Despite the synopsis sounding a little flat, Branagh’s magic combined with Winslet’s talent and that simply wonderful title is enough to make me want to see it.

What to Watch: Heavenly Creatures, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children

What to Avoid: Holy Smoke, The Life of David Gale

What to Look Forward to: Red Band, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Labor Day



[framed_right img=]

There are some actors/actresses on this list who are here simply because of my fondness for them. No matter how much, or little, talent they have; they’re here because I simply love them and will see (almost) any film they’re involved with no matter what. Jim Broadbent is one of these people. There’s just something about him that is lovely, and paternal; maybe even grandfatherly. I imagine that is something all actors aspire to. I don’t mean this to be patronising in the slightest – I have a great deal of affection for Broadbent.

One role where Broadbent perfectly embodies this loveliness is his role of Tom in Mike Leigh’s Another Year. Whilst he received numerous award nominations for this role, quite deservedly so, Broadbent really should have won something for his marvellous embodiment of this quietly affecting characters. Whilst brilliant in more series roles such as this and Logan Mountstuart in the wonderful Any Human Heart; Broadbent is versatile enough to play far more light hearted roles such as Santa in Arthur Christmas and Horace Slughorn in Harry Potter.

An interesting upcoming role which I’m fairly dubious about is his contribution to Postman Pat: The Movie; a CGI adaptation of the beloved British children’s television programme. Staring alongside the other voice talents of Rupert Grint, David Tennant and Stephen Mangan (as Pat himself), I’m sure it won’t be quite as awful as I expect it to be. Perhaps more reliable projects are his planned appearance in the adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Irvine Welsh’s Filth: two features I’m very much looking forward to seeing (not just because of Jim).

What to Watch: Brazil, The Damned United, Another Year

What to Avoid: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

What to Look Forward to: Cloud Atlas, Filth, The Diplomat



[framed_right img=]

My love of Simon Pegg was first ignited in 1999 when I first saw Spaced on Channel 4. Although my attraction to him was initially purely aesthetic, I soon discovered he was hilarious, nerdy and rather talented. This Pegg appreciation has followed me into my adult life. As a result, I always anticipate his future projects. I even read his autobiography Nerd Do Good, which is probably the only autobiography I have devoured with such greed.

Probably my favourite Simon Pegg films are the so called Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy (aka The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy), directed by Edgar Wright and produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, co-staring Nick Frost. Currently, only two of these films have been made: Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz; both incredible, and wonderfully British films, that have it all: humour, action and, most importantly: ice cream. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the film to conclude this trilogy: The World’s End, due to start filming this summer, set to be out in 2013.

After Pegg’s success in The Adventures of Tintin, Mission Impossible: – Ghost Protocol and Star Trek, his future in Hollywood seems destined to shine. Not only am I looking forward to the third Cornetto film, I also have high hopes for his appearance in the planned Star Trek sequel. Fingers crossed there will be a further Mission: Impossible film with returning to the endearingly geeky role of Benji once again.

What to Watch: Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

What to Avoid: Big Nothing

What to Look Forward to: A Fantastic Fear of Everything, The World’s End, Hector and the Search for Happiness



[framed_right img=]

As I touched upon earlier with Jim Broadbent, there are some people here simply because I love them. Sir Ian McKellen is one of these actors. Whilst I see Broadbent as a grandfather figure, McKellen is more of a cool uncle who just so happens to be Magneto.

McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto is perhaps my favourite incarnation (although Michael Fassbender was brilliant in X-Men: First Class) of Erik; the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. McKellen is also the only actor in this list that I have seen in the flesh, as I had the pleasure of seeing him in Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket theatre although unfortunately, not alongside his fellow mutant Patrick Stewart. He was just as impressive as I had anticipated, if not more so. I am so very grateful that McKellen has only let me down my staring in one poor film: The Golden Compass, the first of a series of books that really should be left as novels. Thankfully, as the first was so terrible the production company abandoned the idea of adapting the subsequent novels.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are perhaps the most successful films Sir Ian McKellen has starred in, resulting in his most iconic role: Gandalf. Whilst I can appreciate the acting, and accomplishments people achieved making this groundbreaking group of films; I’m just not a fan of the story. Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to him reappearing on the big screen in the two-parter The Hobbit movie seeing his return to the role of Gandalf (what colour he is remains to be seen, even though I read the novel when younger I struggle to remember any specific details; except for all the singing).

What to Watch: Jack and Sarah, X-Men Trilogy, Flushed Away

What to Avoid: The Golden Compass

What to Look Forward to: The Hobbit



[framed_right img=]

I am more than conscious that the amount of men outweighing the British actresses on this list. Thankfully, I have two of my favourite actresses in my top five, so hopefully the Suffragettes will forgive me for not having an equal ratio. Emma Thompson, member of the much esteemed Cambridge Footlights group, is easily one of my favourite British contributors to the world of cinema.

Thompson first won me over in her portrayal of the witty ‘shrew’ Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, when I was first studying the play at school. As it became one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, I have repeatedly watched Beatrice battle with Benedick (Branagh, who was married to Thompson at the time) with so much joy. A more recent incarnation I am especially fond of is her role of Karen Eiffel: a successful novelist battling writers block, thinking of innovative ways to kill off her new character Harold Crick. Unbeknownst to Eiffel, her new character is actually a real person. Stranger than Fiction is simply Thompson at her best; I implore anyone who has yet to see this film to do so at their earliest opportunity.

This year, Thompson will return to Disney to provide the voice of Queen Elinor in the highly anticipated new Pixar feature; Brave. As Emma Thompson successfully voiced the delightfully witty Captain Amelia in Treasure Planet (an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story), I have every faith she will fulfil the role perfectly; especially as Thompson grew up in Scotland, consequently classing herself as Scottish.

What to Watch: Much Ado About Nothing, Love Actually, Stranger Than Fiction

What to Avoid: Maybe Baby

What to Look Forward to: Brave, Beautiful Creatures, Love Punch



[framed_right img=]

Perhaps an unexpected edition to this list, Colin Firth really turned his career around (for me personally, at least) with his extraordinary performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man: one of my all time favourite films. Before I saw his portrayal of George, a professor crippled with grief after the death of his partner the following year, I had written Firth off as a cliched, mediocre romantic comedy actor who played the stereotypical posh Brit (although these roles did work well in the first Bridget Jones’ Diary and Love Actually).

Firth continued to impress audiences and critics alike with his endearing and yet powerful portrayal as Prince Albert in The King’s Speech; a film that reintroduced the actor to a wider audience. Thanks to Bertie, Firth has a seemingly endless list of accolades to his name; proving he is capable of so much more than Mr Darcy. I have no doubt that it is because of these few outstanding performances that Firth landed the role of Bill in one of my favourite films of 2011; Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which only added to his list of awards.

I have every faith that the forthcoming years will be as equally lucrative for Colin Firth. With exciting projects in the pipeline such as Michael Hoffman’s Gambit (written by the Coen Brothers) staring alongside another British star Alan Rickman, and Stanley Tucci; 2012 and 2013 are going to be just as bright as previous years.

What to Watch: A Single Man, The King’s Speech, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

What to Avoid: The Accidental Husband, Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason 

What to Look Forward to: Gambit, The Happy Prince



[framed_right img=]

Regular readers, or listeners to the podcast, will know how much I love an indie film. Perhaps the most indie of all British actors/actresses is the wonderful Tilda Swinton. With a love of Arthouse cinema herself, Swinton has stared in a number of unconventional films. Thanks to her androgynous look, was especially superb in the adaptation of Virgina Woolf’s novel of the same name Orlando.

Invited to be on the board of judges on the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, it is obvious the impact Swinton has had, and continues to have, to the world of cinema. Most recently she stared as Eva in the brilliant adaptation of Lynne Ramsey’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin; perhaps the most affecting film of 2011 and most certainly one of my favourite films of last year.

Tilda Swinton’s role in the recent Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom is just another reason for me to be tremendously excited about the new movie by my favourite director. Whilst it’s been out over here for about a week already, it is on limited release and unfortunately I still haven’t had a chance to see it yet. I know that Anderson won’t let me down. Swinton’s 2013 project Snowpiercer, currently in the process of being filmed, directed by Joon Ho-Bong (The Host, Mother) is a post apocalyptic survival thriller. Staring alongside Chris Evans (Captain America) and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), I’m looking forward to seeing Swinton in what sounds to be an incredibly challenging role.

What to Watch: Burn After Reading, Thumbsucker, We Need to Talk About Kevin 

What to Avoid: Young Adam

What to Look Forward to: Moonrise Kingdom, Snowpiercer



[framed_right img=]

Much like Broadbent and McKellen, I would class Bill Nighy in my imaginary extended family; perhaps another eccentric uncle in this case. Not only is Nighy an incredibly warm individual, he is also incredibly talented and incredibly cool: Nighy never fails to look sharp.

2003 really was the year for Nighy to come into mainstream cinema: staring in the delightful Love Actually as a suitably cool (if a little washed up) rock star, and as the protagonist’s father in the lovely I Capture the Castle. Since then, he has stared in a plethora of successful films including two of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the enormously successful Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End respectively. Like all actors worth their due, Nighy has had roles in a couple of duff films. Even though Wrath of the Titans was not a good film; Nighy was easily the best thing about that movie making it endurable at least.

Despite every forthcoming production I have mentioned in this list so far, Bill Nighy’s films to look forward to are easily the most thrilling: featuring in the Total Recall reboot is exciting enough, without even touching upon other future projects. About Time finally sees Bill Nighy reunited with The Boat That Rocked director Richard Curtis: a partnership that I will never tire of.

What to Watch: I Capture the Castle, The Boat That Rocked, Notes on a Scandal 

What to Avoid: Underworld, Wrath of the Titans 

What to Look Forward to: Total Recall, I Frankenstein, About Time



[framed_right img=]

No prizes for guessing that Ewan McGregor is my number one favourite British actor. Versatile, talented and fairly easy on the eye; McGregor is the whole package. Even his bad films have artistic value (I’m not sure why The Pillow Book has such a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes; it obviously went right over my head)

Freshly single half way into my first year at university, I decided to spend my student loan money wisely: on Ewan McGregor’s back catalogue. This included The Serpent’s Kill, The Pillow Book and A Life Less Ordinary. I really did overindulge in McGregor around that time, as I was spoilt with the coincidental release of Down With Love (his singing his just dreamy) and Young Adam (uncomfortable viewing even for the most devote of followers). Since then, his acting ability has consistently improved as he tackles increasingly challenging themes and genres, including: being the life partner to a conman (I Love You Philip Morris), a ghost writer for the Prime Minister (Ghost) and a grieving artist (Beginners; my favourite film of 2011). Even if the end product is not my cup of tea, I know that I will always appreciate McGregor’s talents.

Featuring in the new fairy tale adaptation set to come out in 2013; Ewan McGregor plays Elmont, leader of the King’s guard who helps to fight giants, in Jack the Giant Killer. There has been a number of films like this recently, so I’m hoping that director Bryan Singer will bring something fresh to the genre. As two of my top five actors are set to star (Bill Nighy is one of the giant’s heads), I’m sure Singer will not disappoint.

What to Watch: I Love You Philip Morris, Ghost, Beginners

What to Avoid: The Pillow Book, Young Adam

What to Look Forward to: The Impossible, Jack the Giant Killer

What do you think of my choices? It was a really tough list to compile, as unfortunately I had to leave out a lot of talented people to keep it short(ish). Who is your favourite British actor or actress? Let me know in the comments.



  • Asrap
    June 3, 2012

    I’d add Tom Hardy too. 10 very good actors here. But although she is very good, I feel slightly off with Emma Thompson ever since she bad mouthed Audrey Hepburn. But then again it might be because I’m a guy and as Emma said; “Audrey is a guy thing”. Hey, isn’t Audrey Hepburn British?

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      I haven’t really seen enough of Hardy to add him to the list, but I suppose he would make my top 20 actors after seeing Bronson.

      I had no idea Thompson badmouthed Hepburn, what a shame. Hepburn was born in Belgium and moved around Europe in her childhood so I don’t think she’s technically British. She is lovely though!

  • Andina
    June 3, 2012

    Some lovely actors here, Amy. I definitely love Mulligan, that gal knows all the good roles for her career and look at the big actors that have worked with her. Kate Winslet is one of the actress with the wonderful inner beauty. I think I might give Colin Firth as my number 1, though his movie list maybe not as much as the seniors.

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks Andina! Mulligan really is brilliant. Colin Firth is fantastic, and hopefully his roles will continue to be challenging and impressive. I know there is another Bridget Jones is in the works, which is more than a little worrying!

  • Fernando Quintero
    June 4, 2012

    Fantastic post, Amy! Especially love the inclusion of Mulligan, Winslet, Swinton, Thompson, Firth and McGregor. I adore Emma Thompson, she reminds me a little of my mother. And oh god, I felt the exact same way about Firth before A Single Man!

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Thanks Fernando! Thompson has a wonderful maternal feel, maybe I should have named her as my mother in the little family I constructed above.

      I’m glad that I’m not the only one who judged Firth so harshly pre-A Single Man. Such a wonderful film, definitely one of my favourites!

  • Slick Nick
    June 4, 2012

    Only problem is Simon Pegg isn’t an actor. He plays the same part in every role – himself.

    • Amy
      June 5, 2012

      Perhaps that’s why I like Pegg so much, not necessarily the best reason to like an actor. Unfortunately I was a little shallow placing Simon Pegg in this list but I really enjoy his films. After seeing the trailer for A Fantastic Fear of Everything again, I really can’t wait to see it (and not just for Pegg’s inclusion).

  • sam
    November 27, 2012

    Id put Benedict Cumberbatch in there

    • Amy
      December 18, 2012

      Thanks Sam, Cumberbatch is great!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: