Family & Companions
After decades of acclaimed performances on stage and British television, Brenda Blethyn expanded her audience to include international theatergoers during the 1990s. With her spry and feisty manner, she showed a flair for comedy with her acclaimed starring roles in "Little Voice" (1998), "Saving Grace" (2000) and several British sitcoms. But ultimately the stage veteran revealed herself to be one of her country's most versatile character actors, bringing a down-to-earth accessibility to ubiquitous costume dramas like "Pride & Prejudice" (2005) as well as offering many portraits of contemporary women struggling to define themselves in "Secrets and Lies" (1996) and "Lovely and Amazing" (2001). Much in-demand in her native country and by filmmakers from the U.S. to Australia, Blethyn could always be counted to add her humorous touch to characters undergoing the most difficult of personal situations.
Born Brenda Anne Bottle on February 20, 1946, Blethyn was raised the youngest of nine in a working class home in Ramsgate, a seaside resort town in Kent, England. She attended Thanet Technical College in Kent and spent the following 10 years in an administrative career, while continuing to nurture her interest in acting by appearing in regional theatrical productions. The dissolution of her early marriage led her to reassess her life and enroll in the Guildford School of Acting. In a remarkably short period of time, she was performing with the Royal National Theater. Her many credits there included "Troilus and Cressida" in 1976 and "Mysteries" in 1979; in 1980, the newcomer hit movie screens in Mike Leigh's "Grown-Ups" (1980). She earned her first critical acclaim in 1981 for "Steaming" at the Comedy Theater, for which she took home London Critics Circle and Society of West End Theatre Awards for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, she played in "The Double Dealer" at the Royal National Theatre and the modest number of guest TV spots she had already accrued led to a leading role as the long-suffering girlfriend of an unlucky man (Simon Callow) in the sitcom, "Chance in a Million" (Channel 4, 1984-86).
During the 1980s, Blethyn made countless British television appearances, ranging from BBC productions including "King Lear," to the mystery miniseries "Death of an Expert Witness" (1985) to the NBC two-part TV movie "Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story" (1987). Her ongoing stage work included "A Doll's House" and "Born Yesterday" at the Royal Exchange Theatre, and "The Benefactors," which earned the actress an Olivier Award nomination. In 1989 Blethyn was well-cast as a single mum who vows to achieve a list of goals she made for herself as a teen - before her 40th birthday - in the sitcom, "The Labours of Erica." Her first film role came the following year in Nicolas Roeg's childhood fantasy, "The Witches" (1990). Blethyn continued to break new ground with her first American stage performance in the off-Broadway production of Alan Ayckbourn's "Absent Friends" in 1991.
Blethyn earned a Theater World Award for Outstanding New Talent for "Absent Friends" and went on to make her first dent in Hollywood playing a minister's wife and the mother of two very different sons (Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer) in the Depression era film, "A River Runs Through It" (1992). While appearing in the leading role in the British miniseries "The Buddha of Suburbia" (1993) and scoring a British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress for "Outside Edge" (1994-95), Blethyn stayed close to the stage in productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Theater Exchange in Manchester. Her career reached new heights in 1996 when she re-teamed with Mike Leigh for "Secrets & Lies" (1996), starring as a working class woman rediscovered by the black daughter she gave up for adoption at birth. Blethyn was both amusing and pitiable in a role that earned numerous accolades. For her tender mix of emotions and the talent she showed for improvisation in the film, she earned an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe and BAFTA wins, as well as the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Her international victory raised Blethyn's profile significantly, and she landed back-to-back features for the next several years, first joining Julie Walters to play sisters-in-law and best pals who make a trip to Las Vegas in "Girls Night" (1997). Next she gave a tremendously moving portrait of a woman who has never fully recovered from the death of her child in the Australian produced "In the Winter Dark" (1998). And another Academy Award nomination was forthcoming for Blethyn's turn as a blowzy, boozy, talkative widow raising a troubled daughter (Jane Horrocks) with a remarkable gift for vocal mimicry in "Little Voice" (1998). Blethyn gave an excellent portrayal of Louella Parsons in "RKO 281" (1999), the acclaimed HBO original about the making of Orson Welles' masterpiece, "Citizen Kane" (1941). Back to proving she could carry a film lead with charm, humor and pluck, Blethyn offered a deft comic turn as a refined widow forced by financial straits into growing a bumper crop of marijuana in the surprise art house hit "Saving Grace" (2000), for which she earned another round of Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
The following year, Blethyn garnered her first Emmy nomination for her affecting portrayal of Auguste Van Pels in the acclaimed ABC miniseries, "Anne Frank." Her next string of films were little-seen, with the possible exception of Nicole Holofcener's modest indie hit "Lovely and Amazing" (2001), a smart female ensemble in which Blethyn anchored as the matriarch of a family of women (Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Raven Goodwin). After lending her voice to the Nickelodeon animated feature "The Wild Thornberry's Movie" (2002), she appeared in the dark psychological drama, "Sonny" (2002), directed by first-timer Nicholas Cage. Often criticized for overplaying a working-class British accent, Blethyn affected an American tone in playing the mother of Pumpkin Romanoff (Hank Harris) in the satirical look at fraternity life in Southern California, "Pumpkin" (2002).
In a third box office flop, Blethyn was cast as the showtune-singing mother of Bobby Darin in Kevin Spacey's labor-of-love, "Beyond the Sea" (2004). She fared better when she hit Broadway that year in Marsha Norman's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "'Night Mother," starring opposite Edie Falco as the mother of a woman who has decided to commit suicide. In 2005, Blethyn starred in the Scottish film production "On a Clear Day" (2005), playing the wife of a laid-off Glasgow shipbuilder who takes the family's finances into her own hands and secretly trains to start her own career. From this modest art house film, Blethyn hit mainstream movie theaters in a lively adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" (2005), where her performance as Mrs. Bennett, the forever-nattering matriarch constantly trying to marry off her daughters to save the family's future, was a comedic gem. The timeless classic went on to earn over $120 million at the box office, securing Blethyn's place as one of the most versatile British actresses around, equally appealing in costume dramas or as cheeky working class mums.
Further stretching her range, Blethyn starred as a raucous Australian comedienne in "Clubland" (2007), and was nominated for an American Film Institute Award while the film was popular at the Australian Film Institute Awards that year. Blethyn followed up with a small supporting role in the blockbuster drama "Atonement" (2007). Blethyn took a break from her non-stop film shooting schedule over the next couple of years, guesting on American TV as the neurotic mother of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 2006-10) and earning another Emmy nomination for a guest spot on "Law & Order: SVU" (NBC, 1999- ) as a woman who helps seek justice for an abused neighbor.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Joined England's National Theatre Company
Acted in "The Imitation Game" (made for British TV, but shown at film festivals and received limited theatrical exposure)
Had initial collaboration with Mike Leigh, the British TV-movie "Grown-Ups"
Had featured role in the British stage play "Steaming"
Co-starred in the London staging of "Benefactors" by Michael Frayn
Starred with Simon Callow in the British comedy series "Chance in a Million" (Channel Four/Thames)
Appeared in a British stage production of "Born Yesterday"
Had lead in the British series "The Labours of Erica," a sitcom written for her by "Chance in a Million" writers Fegen and Norriss
Made full-fledged feature film debut in the US-produced children's fantasy "The Witches"
Appeared in the Off-Broadway production of "Absent Friends"
Returned to the British stage in "An Ideal Husband" in Manchester
Had small role as the family matriarch in the Robert Redford directed "A River Runs Through It"
Appeared in "The Buddha of Suburbia"
Co-starred with Timothy Spall in the British comedy series "Outside Edge"
Made final stage appearance (to date) in "Habeas Corpus," at the Donmar Theatre Warehouse
Received first Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the birth mother of an African American daughter who she gave up for adoption in Mike Leigh's "Secrets & Lies"; Spall played her brother
Teamed with Julie Walters for "Girls Night"
Won critical praise as the shrill working-class mother of a gifted young woman nicknamed "Little Voice"; received second Academy Award nomination, this time as Best Supporting Actress
Portrayed Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the HBO drama "RKO 281"
Co-starred with John Hurt in the love story "Night Train"
Appeared as a widow forced by circumstances into raising marijuana in the comedy "Saving Grace"
Played the wife of a military officer stationed in Malayasia in the 1930s in "Sleeping Dictionary"
Portrayed Auguste Van Pels in the ABC movie "Anne Frank"; received Emmy nomination
Played the mother of the title character, a former gigolo, in the film "Sonny," directed by Nicolas Cage
Acted in the ensemble of "Daddy and Them"; written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton
Portrayed Bobby Darin's (Kevin Spacey) mother in "Beyond the Sea" a biopic of the legendary singer
Cast opposite Donald Sutherland and Keira Knightley in "Pride and Prejudice," an adaptation of the Jane Austen classic
Cast as Peter Mullan's loving wife in "On a Clear Day"
Played a bawdy comedienne with a sinking career in the Australian drama "Introducing the Dwights"
Once again appeared opposite Keira Knightley in the critically-acclaimed "Atonement"
Earned an Emmy nomination for her guest starring role on NBC's "Law and Order SVU"
Had a guest role on "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Played Elisabeth in "London River"
Played a nun in dramedy "The Calling"
Starred as DCI Vera Stanhope on crime drama "Vera"
Played Ernestine Enormomonster on "Henry Hugglemonster"