The All Time Top 25 British Actresses

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1.
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...
“ A legendary actress. Dame Maggie Smith has appeared in many well known films. Often she is not required to show her full acting range but, when the role allows, she can be absolutely superb. The Prime of Miss. Jean Brodie was one of her best roles. Mrs. Delahunty in My House in Umbria was another great role. As well as being a great dramatic actress, Smith has brilliant comic timing. ” - topukactors
 
2.
“ Penelope Wilton is a very versatile and talented actress. She has appeared in many well known films and TV series. For many years she worked steadily, sometimes in good character parts, other times in starring roles. Recently it seems her great talent has finally been recognised and she is now considered by many to be in the very top echelon of actors. ” - topukactors
 
3.
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...
“ A brilliant actress. One of her best roles was as repressed housewife Miriam Dervish in TV comedy Outside Edge, alongside Robert Daws. Was also excellent in Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. ” - topukactors
 
4.
Patricia Routledge
Daughter of Catherine and Isaac Routledge. Her father was a haberdasher, and, during WWII, the family lived weeks at a time in the basement of her father's shop. She attended Birkenhead High School, where she sang in the choir and ran the Sunday School. She studied English at Liverpool University, and...
“ One of the top British TV actresses in the 1990s. Patricia Routledge had a commanding screen presence as Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping up appearances. Only such a brilliant actress as Routledge could get away with such over the top acting (one of her trade marks was looking at something twice and only realising what it was the second time). This just made the character even funnier than it already was. Also very versatile, a master of her craft. After Keeping up apperances she played Hetty Wainthropp, a completely different character, but another great Routledge performance. ” - topukactors
 
5.
Celia Johnson
Stage actress who appeared in a handful of UK films. She is best remembered for her screen performance in Noël Coward's and David Lean's Brief Encounter, opposite Trevor Howard. This film wasn't released in the United States until 1946, and her subsequent nomination for an Academy Award for the Best Actress in a Leading Role did not occur until 1947.
“ Dame Celia Johnson was a legendary actress of the past. She was brilliant as headmistress Miss Mackay in The prime of Miss. Jean Brodie, alongside Maggie Smith. ” - topukactors
 
6.
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...
“ A great actress. She is the master of the disapproving silence, as seen in her role of Lady Marchmain in the 1981 TV version of Brideshead Revisited. This was just one of many fine roles in her long career. ” - topukactors
 
7.
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...
“ Kate Winslet is one of the top British actresses of modern times. Winslet appeared in a major role in a big Hollywood film when only in her early twenties (Titanic), a great performance. Another fine role was in Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. Many fine roles may lie ahead. ” - topukactors
 
8.
“ This Scottish character actress has had many fine roles over a career that stretches back to the 1970s. She was excellent as Marilyn Truman in Shooting the past. ” - topukactors
 
9.
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...
“ A great actress that has been around a long time. She was excellent as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. She has played many other well known roles. ” - topukactors
 
10.
“ A great character actress for over fifty years, Anna Massey played many great roles (often supporting roles). Massey was very versatile. ” - topukactors
 
11.
Joan Sanderson
Actress, Please Sir!
Joan Sanderson was a well known British television and stage actress. During several seasons at Stratford Upon Avon, she played the roles of Goneril in King Lear, Constance in King John, and Queen Margaret in Richard III. In a single season at the Old Vic she appeared in The Mousetrap, and in 1981 ended...
“ Joan Sanderson was superb at playing battleaxe characters. She had brilliant comic timing. After a memorable guest appearance in Fawlty Towers, Sanderson appeared alongside Prunella Scales again in After Henry. Watching her in this role (as Scales' interfering elderly mother Eleanor) was very enjoyable. Sadly, Sanderson died not long after filming of the fourth series was completed. ” - topukactors
 
12.
Lesley Manville
Actress, Maleficent
Lesley Manville was born on March 12, 1956 in Brighton, East Sussex, England. She is a multi award winning stage and screen actress and has worked extensively with the director Mike Leigh. She is known for Another Year (2010), All or Nothing (2002), Topsy-Turvy (1999), Secrets & Lies (1996). Lesley was made an OBE in the 2015 Queens Birthday Honours List.
“ Often appearing in Mike Leigh films, Lesley Manville is a great actress. Brings to life quite a small seemingly insignificant part in Secrets and Lies. ” - topukactors
 
13.
Eileen Atkins
Actress, Cold Mountain
Eileen Atkins was born in a Salvation Army Women's Hostel in north London. Her father was a gas meter reader; her mother, a seamstress and barmaid. A drama teacher taught her how to drop her Cockney accent, and she studied Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. Her breakthrough role in "The Killing of Sister George" took her to Broadway.
“ Dame Eileen Atkins is a superb versatile actress. Although she has appeared a lot on the stage, Atkins has also had a long movie and TV career. She has never really had the very great film and TV roles that a person of her talent deserves. ” - topukactors
 
14.
Wendy Hiller
Cheshire-born actress Wendy Hiller soared to Cinderella-like stardom in her West End theatre debut of "Love on the Dole" (1934). The critical applause she received for this stellar performance led to an expressed introduction to legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw. She went on to give life to a number of his greatest creations (Joan of Arc...
“ Dame Wendy Hiller was a great actress of yesteryear. ” - topukactors
 
15.
Jessica Tandy
A beloved, twinkly blue-eyed doyenne of stage and screen, actress Jessica Tandy's career spanned nearly six and a half decades. In that course of time, she enjoyed an amazing film renaissance at age 80, something unheard of in a town that worships youth and nubile beauty. She was born Jessie Alice Tandy in London in 1909...
“ This legendary Hollywood actress was born and bred in Britain. She began her career in British films in the 1930s. Near the end of her career she won an Oscar for a brilliant performance in Driving Miss Daisy. Continued working until death in her mid 80s in 1994. ” - topukactors
 
16.
Hayley Mills
Born Hayley Catherine Rose Vivien Mills in London, England, on Thursday, April 18th, 1946, she is the daughter of the great actor Sir John Mills and the well-known novelist-playwright Mary Hayley Bell. Her sister is the actress Juliet Mills. She grew up in her parents' home, an outgoing, funny child...
“ As a teenager, Hayley Mills was a brilliant talent. She acted many an adult actor off the screen. Probably the greatest child star of all time. In her early twenties, she gave a good performance in Twisted Nerve. Nearly all of her best roles were in the 1960s. ” - topukactors
 
17.
Stephanie Cole
Born in Warwickshire, England, UK. At age of 15, she auditioned for and was accepted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Stephanie began her career at age 17 playing a 90-year-old woman. She went on to play beloved characters on the shows Waiting for God and Doc Martin.
“ A top actress on British TV in the 1980s and 1990s, Stephanie Cole's career took off with Tenko. Cole never became typecast, always playing different roles, many of them to perfection. Is best known as Diana Trent in Waiting for god in the early 1990s. ” - topukactors
 
18.
Jo Hartley
Jo Hartley was born in Oldham, Lancashire. Attended North Chadderton Comprehensive School. At the age of 11 years old, performed in 'The Sound Of Music' as Gretel. Jo got her first taste for acting. Later, she went on to join Oldham Theatre Workshop where she stayed for several years. At the age of 17, Jo's father died, she decided to travel and put her acting on hold...
“ Like Lesley Manville in Secrets and Lies, Jo Hartley brought a small seemingly insignificant role to life in Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes. Meadows cast her again in This Is England. Hopefully will go on to have a great career. ” - topukactors
 
19.
“ A top character actress since the 1970s, Gwen Taylor has played many varied roles, yet has never really been recognised for being the great British actress she is. ” - topukactors
 
20.
“ A fine versatile British comedy actress that played lead roles in hit sitcoms in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Her 1960s hit was as Kate Starling in Marriage Lines with Richard Briers. In the 1970s she appeared in her most well known role, Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers alongside John Cleese. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she played Sarah France in After Henry alongside Joan Sanderson. ” - topukactors
 
21.
Margaret Leighton
British theatre actress Margaret Leighton made her classical stage debut at age 16. The daughter of a businessman, she joined the Old Vic Company under the direction of Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson and in the late 40s and 50s earned kudos for her theatrical endeavors on both the London and Broadway stages...
“ A fine British character actress of yesteryear, Margaret Leighton sadly died in her mid 50s. Just witness her performance as Madame Orloff in From Beyond the Grave! She turned a good horror film into a comedy for a few brief minutes. ” - topukactors
 
22.
Billie Whitelaw
Actress, Hot Fuzz
Billie Whitelaw first appeared on the radio aged 11. She made her theatrical debut in 1950 and in films from 1953. She has made a speciality of playing intense, single-purposed women. Also, (on stage), she has appeared in many of the stranger plays by Samuel Beckett.
“ Billie Whitelaw was a very versatile actress. In the early part of her career, Whitelaw often played strong willed characters. She gave a brilliant performance in Twisted Nerve in 1968. In 1999 she played a good supporting role in Shooting the past, which was very different to many of her earlier roles. ” - topukactors
 
23.
“ Brilliant at playing upper class sometimes snooty characters, Patricia Hodge is a superb actress. ” - topukactors
 
24.
Glynis Johns
Actress, Mary Poppins
Husky voiced Glynis is the daughter of actor Mervyn Johns. Best known for her light comedy roles and often playful flirtation, Glynis was born in South Africa while her parents were on tour there (her mother was a concert pianist) but was always proud of her Welsh roots and took delight in playing the female lead (opposite Richard Burton) in the classic Under Milk Wood...
“ A fine Welsh character actress that had a long career. ” - topukactors
 
25.
“ Kate Dickie is a Scottish actress that gave a great performance in Red Road. ” - topukactors