Top 25 Greatest British Actresses

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1.
Vanessa Redgrave
On January 30, 1937, renowned theatre actor Michael Redgrave was performing in a production of Hamlet in London. During the curtain call, the show's lead, Laurence Olivier, announced to the audience: "tonight a great actress was born". This was in reference to his co-star's newborn daughter, Vanessa Redgrave...
 
2.
Judi Dench
Actress, Skyfall
Judi Dench was born in York, England, to Eleanora Olive (Jones), who was from Dublin, Ireland, and Reginald Arthur Dench, a doctor from Dorset, England. She attended Mount School in York, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She has performed with Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre...
 
3.
Helen Mirren
Actress, The Queen
Dame Helen Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital in West London. Her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (Rogers), was from a working-class English family, and her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, was a Russian-born civil servant, from Kuryanovo, whose own father was a diplomat. Mirren attended St...
 
4.
Maggie Smith
One of the world's most famous and distinguished actresses, Dame Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith in Essex. Her Scottish mother, Margaret (Hutton), worked as a secretary, and her English father, Nathaniel Smith, was a teacher at Oxford University. Smith has been married twice: to actor Robert Stephens and to playwright Beverley Cross...
 
5.
Angela Lansbury
British character actress, long in the United States. The daughter of an actress and the granddaughter of a high-ranking politician, Lansbury studied acting from her youth, departing for the United States as the Second World War began. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated for an Academy Award for her first film...
 
6.
Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson was born in London on April 15, 1959, into a family of actors - her father was Eric Thompson, who has passed away, and her mother, Phyllida Law, has co-starred with Thompson in several films (her sister, Sophie Thompson, is an actor as well). Her father was English-born and her mother is Scottish-born...
 
7.
Tilda Swinton
The iconoclastic gifts of the visually striking and fiercely talented actress Tilda Swinton have been appreciated by a more international audience of late. She was born Katherine Mathilda Swinton on November 5, 1960, in London, England. Her mother, Judith Balfour, Lady Swinton (née Killen), was Australian...
 
8.
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents Lilian Augusta (Ruse), a former actress, and Walter Augustus de Havilland, an English professor and patent attorney. Her sister, Joan, later to become famous as Joan Fontaine, was born the following year. Her surname comes from her paternal grandfather...
 
9.
Glenda Jackson
Few in modern British history have come as far or achieved as much from humble beginnings as Glenda Jackson has. From acclaimed actress to respected MP (Member of Parliament), she is known for her high intelligence and meticulous approach to her work. She was born to a working-class household in Birkenhead...
 
10.
Jean Simmons
Actress, Spartacus
Demure British beauty Jean Simmons was born January 31, 1929 in Crouch End, London. As a 14-year-old dance student, she was plucked from her school to play Margaret Lockwood's precocious sister in Give Us the Moon, and she went on to make a name for herself in such major British productions as Caesar and Cleopatra...
 
11.
Miranda Richardson
Actress, Sleepy Hollow
Miranda Richardson was born in Southport, Lancashire, England on March 3, 1958, to Marian Georgina (Townsend) and William Alan Richardson, a marketing executive. She has one sister, eight years her senior. Her parents and sister are not involved in the performing arts. At an early age she performed in school plays...
 
12.
Brenda Blethyn
Actress, Atonement
After twenty years of hard work on stage and both television and film, there are not many other actresses who deserved the success, recognition and stardom which Brenda Blethyn has now achieved. Born in 1946 in Ramsgate, Kent, England, she started her career at British Rail in the 1960s. Saving money during her time there...
 
13.
Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter is an actress of great versatility, one of the UK's finest and most successful. Bonham Carter was born May 26, 1966 in Golders Green, London, England, the youngest of three children of Elena (née Propper de Callejón), a psychotherapist, and Raymond Bonham Carter, a merchant banker...
 
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15.
Joan Plowright
Dame Joan Ann Plowright, the Baroness Olivier, is one of the most distinguished actors of her generation. She may be best remembered as the third wife and widow of Laurence Olivier, generally considered the greatest anglophone actor of the 20th Century, but she had a distinguished career of her own on stage and screen spanning six decades...
 
16.
Kate Winslet
Actress, Titanic
Ask Kate Winslet what she likes about any of her characters, and the word "ballsy" is bound to pop up at least once. The British actress has made a point of eschewing straightforward pretty-girl parts in favor of more devilish damsels; as a result, she's built an eclectic resume that runs the gamut from Shakespearean tragedy to modern-day mysticism and erotica...
 
17.
Keira Knightley
Keira Christina Knightley was born in the South West Greater London suburb of Richmond on March 26th 1985. She is the daughter of actor Will Knightley and actress turned playwright Sharman Macdonald. An older brother, Caleb Knightley, was born in 1979. Her father is English, while her Scottish-born mother is of Scottish and Welsh origin...
 
18.
Claire Bloom
Age has not taken the flower off this Bloom. The well-known and respected stage, screen and television actress Claire Bloom, originally named Patricia Claire Blume, continues to be in demand as a septuagenarian actress and looks as beautiful as ever. She was born Patricia Claire Bloom on February 15...
 
19.
Lynn Redgrave
Actress of both the English and American stage and screen, Lynn Redgrave was born in Marylebone, London, England, into one of the world's most famous acting dynasties. As the daughter of Rachel Kempson and Sir Michael Redgrave, sister of Vanessa Redgrave and Corin Redgrave, and granddaughter of Roy Redgrave and Margaret Scudamore...
 
20.
Merle Oberon
Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson was born in India on February 19, 1911. She was educated in that country until the age of 17, when she left for London. Merle began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles or bit parts. She appeared in an uncredited role in Alf's Button, a pattern that would unfortunately repeat itself regularly over the next three years...
 
21.
Julie Walters
Actress, Brave
For decades, Brit actress and comedienne Julie Walters has served as a sturdy representation of the working class with her passionate, earthy portrayals on England's stage, screen and TV. A bona fide talent, her infectious spirit and self-deprecating sense of humor eventually captured the hearts of international audiences...
 
22.
Julie Christie
Julie Christie, the British movie legend whom Al Pacino called "the most poetic of all actresses", was born in Chukua, Assam, India, on April 14, 1941, the daughter of a tea planter, Frank St. John Christie, and his wife, Rosemary (Ramsden), who was a painter. Her family was of English, and some Scottish...
 
23.
Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg is an English actress. She has had an extensive career in film and theatre, including playing the title role in Medea, both in London and New York, for which she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Rigg made her professional stage debut in 1957 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle...
 
24.
Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley was born in Kashmir, India, on 1st May 1946. Her father was a major in the Gurkha Rifles, and she spent most of her early childhood in the Far East where her father was posted. An aspiring actress, she first came to fame as a model in London's swinging 1960s, where she was photographed by the greats...
 
25.
Minnie Driver
Amelia Fiona J. Driver was born January 31, 1970 in Finsbury Park, London. Her mother, Gaynor Churchward, was a designer and former couture model and her father, Charles Ronald "Ronnie" Driver, was a businessman. She has a sister, Kate Driver, who is a model and a producer. Minnie's mother was her father's mistress...