A versatile character actress and occasional lead in British films and television, Lesley Manville was an important member of Mike Leigh's improvisational acting company, with committed and deeply moving turns in films like "All Or Nothing" (2002), "Vera Drake" (2004)" and "Another Year" (2010). Manville's career began as a teenager on television and the English stage, but after meeting Leigh in 1979, she soon became a regular in his features after 1988's "High Hopes." Though her feature appearances were sporadic - she was found more frequently on television, most notably in "The Firm" (BBC, 1988) with her one-time husband, Gary Oldman, and on stage - her work with Leigh, as well as in other films like "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987) and "Sparkle" (2009), marked her as an exceptional talent whose true star quality was yet to be fully discovered.
Born March 12, 1956 in Brighton, in East Sussex, England, she was raised with her two sisters in nearby Hove by her father, a taxicab driver, and her mother. At eight, she displayed an exceptional talent for singing, and was twice named the under-18 soprano champion of Sussex. After hearing about the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, she convinced her parents to let her leave school at 15 and commute to London to learn acting. There, she met famed choreographer Arlene Phillips, who attempted to convince her to join her popular dance troupe, Hot Gossip, but Manville instead turned her focus to improvisation. Soon after, she landed her first stage role in the musical "Albert," under the direction of John Schlesinger. At 16, she became a television presenter for children's programming on Westward Television before landing a recurring role on the popular soap opera, "Emmerdale" (ITV, 1972- ). More television followed, including the gritty children's crime series "King Cinder" (BBC1, 1977), as well as stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1979, she met director Mike Leigh, who was in search of actors with improvisational experience. Their first meeting did not go smoothly, and Leigh brought her into his troupe with some reservation. But after beginning work on their first screen collaboration, as a chilly upper class woman in 1988's "High Hopes," he witnessed her full range of talent, and made her a key player in many of his most significant films. She soon graduated from supporting roles as playwright W.S. Gilbert's wife Lucy in "Topsy-Turvy" (2000) to the female lead in "All or Nothing" (2002), a serio-comic look at three working class families in London. In the film, Manville showed enormous compassion and range as Penny, a supermarket cashier whose marriage to taxi driver Phil (Timothy Spall) has lost its joy. She then played the upper class mother of a woman (Sally Hawkins) who procured an illegal abortion after being raped in "Vera Drake" (2004). In 2010, she returned to lead roles in Leigh's "Another Year," his critically acclaimed drama about a couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who serve as the hub for a circle of desperately unhappy friends, including Manville's Mary, a colleague of Sheen's who drinks to keep the sadness of her solitary life at bay. For her heartbreaking work in the film, Manville won the National Board of Review's Best Actress Award, and received nominations from the British Independent Film and European Film Awards.
During her collaborative years with Leigh, Manville enjoyed occasional supporting roles in other British films, most notably Haneif Kureshi's "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987) and "Sparkle" (2009). But television and stage remained her regular showcases. The former included 1988's "The Firm" (BBC), a harrowing story with Gary Oldman as a real estate agent whose weekends were devoted to football hooliganism. Manville, who played his wife in the film, later married Oldman, though the couple split shortly after the birth of their son in 1989. In 2001, she received a Royal Television Society Award nomination as a bitter divorcee in "Other People's Children" (BBC1, 2000). She also appeared as Mrs. Micawber to Michael Richards' Mr. Micawber in a 2000 production of "David Copperfield" for TNT, and as Margaret Thatcher in "The Queen" (Channel 4, 2009), a five-part documentary about Elizabeth II. On stage, she received stellar notices for Nicholas Hynter's production of "His Dark Materials" (2005) and the theatrical version of Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother" at the Old Vic in 2007.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made her professional stage debut in the West End musical "I and Albert."
Cast as Rosemary Kendall on the British soap opera "Emmerdale Farm"
Co-starred with Peter Duncan in the BBC children's television serial "King Cinder"
First collaboration with director Mike Leigh, the BBC play "Grown-Ups"
Made her feature film debut in "Dance with a Stranger."
Appeared in Stephen Frears' comedic drama "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid"
Appeared in the comedy "High Hopes."
Appeared in the BBC TV-movie "The Firm," starring then-husband Gary Oldman
Was a regular in the British drama series "Soldier Soldier"
Played Melissa Quigley in the British sitcom "Ain't Misbehavin"
Had a recurring role in the British drama "Tears Before Bedtime"
Played the social worker in the drama "Secrets & Lies."
Played Kitty in the acclaimed Gilbert and Sullivan biopic "Topsy-Turvy."
Starred in the TV series version of Joanna Trollope's novel "Other People's Children"
Portrayed Mrs. Micawber in the TV movie adaptation of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield"
Co-starred in the WW II drama series "The Cazalets"
Co-starred as Timothy Spall's taxi-driver partner in Mike Leigh's "All or Nothing"
Appeared in the historical drama "Vera Drake."
Played a supporting role in "The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael"
Co-starred with Stockard Channing and Bob Hoskins in "Sparkle"
Co-starred with Imelda Staunton and Judi Dench in the British television drama "Cranford"
Starred in the acclaimed comedy-drama "Another Year."