Top 300 British Actresses

The list includes several Irish actresses.
Page 1 (1920s-1950s), Page 2 (1950s-1980s), Page 3 (1980s-2010s)
View:
Log in to copy items to your own lists.
1.
Anny Ondra
Actress, Blackmail
Anny Ondra was a Polish-Czech-Austrian-German-French singer, film and stage actress. As a child she lived in Prague, where her father was a colonel in the Austro-Hungarian army. After graduating from convent school in Prague, she studied to be an actress with Prof. Bor. She was already a star in the Czech theater when, at age 16, the teenage beauty was discovered by the film industry...
“ A Czech-German actress that worked in England and starred in Blackmail. ” - minalex
 
2.
Beryl Mercer
Too short to be a leading lady, Beryl Mercer had a very active and productive career playing motherly characters. She had played opposite of great leading men like Colin Clive, Robert Montgomery, James Cagney, Gary Cooper, Leslie Howard, Spencer Tracy, and Randolph Scott. Beryl played Queen Victoria in The Little Princess and The Story of Alexander Graham Bell...
 
3.
Binnie Barnes
British-born actress who appeared in both British and American films, but who found her greatest success in Hollywood second leads. After a variety of jobs, including nurse, chorus girl and milkmaid, Barnes entered vaudeville. She appeared in more than a score of short comedies with comedian Stanley Lupino before making her feature bow in 1931...
 
4.
Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born into an unconventional a family at the turn of the 20th century. Her parents, James "Shamus" Sullivan and Edith "Biddy" Lanchester, were socialists - very active members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in a rather broad sense and did not believe in the institution of marriage and being tied to any conventions of legality for that matter...
 
5.
Wendy Barrie
Wendy Barrie was born in Hong Kong of English-Irish parentage, the daughter of King's Counsel F.C. Jenkins. She received her education at a convent school in England and a finishing school in Switzerland. After working in a beauty parlour, she made her first foray into acting on the London stage in "Wonder Bar" (1930)...
 
6.
Emily Fitzroy
Actress, The Bat
British born actress in American films. She made her film debut in 1915 with Dustin Farnum. She appeared in scores of silent films as a character actress, but reached her greatest prominence with the coming of sound. Fitzroy specialized in motherly and society women characters.
 
7.
Edna Best
Genteel, lady-like British actress who was a much respected theatrical star in the 1920's and 30's, both in her own country and in the United States. Born in Hove, Sussex, in March 1900, she took to the stage at the age of seventeen, as Ela Delahay in 'Charley's Aunt'. She played Peter Pan three years later and married the first of her actor husbands...
 
8.
Peggy Ashcroft
Actress, The 39 Steps
Academy Award-winning, legendary English actress - who maintained her status in the British acting elite for decades. Made a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. Almost always on stage, she appeared rarely in film, her first being The Wandering Jew. On stage she was cast in many a Shakespearean role...
 
9.
 
10.
Madeleine Carroll
Actress, The 39 Steps
The original ash-blonde "iceberg maiden", Madeleine Carroll was a knowing beauty with a confident air, the epitome of poise and "breeding". Not only did she have looks and allure in abundance, but she had intellectual heft to go with them, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Birmingham University at the age of 20...
 
11.
“ A German Jewish actress that has lived in England and appeared in The 39 Steps. ” - minalex
 
12.
 
13.
 
14.
Sylvia Sidney
Actress, Sabotage
"Film after film took advantage of the saddest eyes in Hollywood", says the photo caption for a portrait of Sylvia Sidney published with a 1978 interview conducted by Columbia University film instructor Karyn Kay. Sidney told what it was like working with Hitchcock on Sabotage. She asked him: "How do we do the end of the scene before we've even rehearsed?" Once she learned his methods...
“ An American actress that worked in England and starred in Sabotage. ” - minalex
 
15.
 
16.
Gertrude Lawrence
Actress, Rembrandt
Eminent London and Broadway musical star who appeared in nine films from 1929 through 1950.
 
20.
Marlene Dietrich
Marie Magdelene Dietrich von Losch (aka Marlene) was born in Berlin, Germany on December 27, 1901. Her father was an army officer who had served in the Franco-Prussian War. Because of his constant absences from the family due to his army duties, Marlene and the rest had to rely on themselves. When he died...
“ A German actress that worked in England and starred in Knight Without Armour. ” - minalex
 
23.
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...
“ A British-American actress ” - minalex
 
24.
Wendy Hiller
Wendy Hiller, daughter of Frank and Marie Hiller, was born on 15th August 1912 in Bramhall, near Stockport, Cheshire, England. She was educated at Winceby House School, Bexhill then moved on to Manchester Repertory Theatre. She appeared on stage in Sir John Barry's tour of Evensong, then as Sally Hardcastle in Love on the Dole...
 
25.
 
26.
Vivien Leigh
Vivian Mary Hartley was born on November 5, 1913, in Darjeeling, India. She was to live in this beautiful country for the next six years. Her parents wanted to go home to England but because of World War I they opted to stay in India. At the end of the war the Hartleys headed back to their home country...
 
27.
Maureen O'Hara
In America, the early performing arts accomplishments of young Maureen FitzSimons (who we know as Maureen O'Hara) would definitely have put her in the child prodigy category. However, for a child of Irish heritage surrounded by gifted parents and family, these were very natural traits. Maureen made her entrance into this caring haven on August 17...
 
28.
Merle Oberon
Merle Oberon was born in Bombay, of mixed Welsh-Indian parentage, as Estelle "Queenie" Thompson. According to Michael Korda, she "became a feature of Bombay nightlife while still in her early teens and eventually made her way to England as the girlfriend of a wealthy young Englishman." In London she...
 
29.
Dame May Whitty
Born Mary Whitty on June 19, 1865 to a Liverpool newspaper editor and his wife, she became known as May Whitty to the world. She first stepped on the London stage in 1882. She worked as an understudy at the St. James Theatre, and then, began playing leading roles when she joined a traveling stock company...
 
30.
Mary Clare
Mary Clare was a versatile British character actress of redoubtable presence. On the London stage from 1910 (some sources say 1912), she later alternated her theatrical appearances with acting on screen. During the 1920's and 30's, she specialised in stately characters and villainesses in period dramas...
 
32.
“ A Dutch actress that lived and worked in England ” - minalex
 
33.
Margaret Lockwood
Karachi-born Margaret Lockwood, daughter of a British colonial railway clerk, was educated in London and studied to be an actress at the Italia Conti Drama School. Her first moment on stage came at the age of 12, when she played a fairy in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1928. She had a bit part in the Drury Lane production of "Cavalcade" in 1932...
 
36.
Joan Fontaine
Actress, Rebecca
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan, in what was known as the International Settlement. Her father was a British patent attorney with a lucrative practice in Japan, but due to Joan and older sister Olivia de Havilland's recurring ailments the family moved to California in the hopes of improving their health...
“ A British-American actress ” - minalex
 
37.
Gladys Cooper
Actress, My Fair Lady
Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour Hicks to tour with his company in "Bluebell in Fairyland"...
 
39.
Frieda Inescort
Actress, The Letter
Tall, dark and regal Frieda Inescort's placid loveliness and dignified patrician features bode her well in Hollywood during the late 30s and 40s. Born on June 29, 1901, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the stage-established actress didn't arrive in Hollywood until age 34 (then considered too late for leading...
 
40.
Sara Allgood
Dublin-born Sara Allgood started her acting career in her native country with the famed Abbey Theatre. From there she traveled to the English stage, where she played for many years before making her film debut in 1918. Her warm, open Irish face meant that she spent a lot of time playing Irish mothers...
 
41.
Anna Lee
The daughter of a clergyman, Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith and encouraged to pursue an acting career by her father. After training at London's Royal Albert Hall, she took to the boards and later began appearing in English films, first as an extra, then working her way up to featured parts and finally earning the unofficial title "Queen of the Quota Quickies." Lee and her husband...
 
42.
Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr was born on 30 September 1921 in Helensburgh, Scotland, the daughter of Captain Arthur Kerr-Trimmer. She was educated at Northumberland House, Clifton, Bristol. She first performed at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, London. She subsequently performed with the Oxford Repertory Company 1939-40...
 
43.
 
44.
 
46.
Everley Gregg
Thin-lipped, dark-haired British character actress, whose gallery of strong-minded women included nosy neighbours, snivelling sycophants and acidulous spinsters. Trained at RADA, she was primarily active on the English stage, with roles in "Grand Hotel" (1931) and "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1946)...
 
47.
Googie Withers
Googie Withers began her acting career at the age of 12. She was dancing in the chorus in a West End revue when she was spotted by a Warner Brothers casting director. She went to do a screen test for them at the Riverside Studios and was invited to become an extra. On her first day at the filming of The Girl in the Crowd she arrived on the set just after Michael Powell had just sacked the second lead...
 
49.
Joyce Carey
Genteel London-born actress Joyce Carey came from a distinguished theatrical family. Her own lengthy career on the stage began in 1916, when she played Princess Katherine in an all-female ensemble of "Henry V". She made her debut on the legitimate stage in a small part in the West End production of the exotic melodrama "Mr.Wu"...
 
50.
Sally Ann Howes
Sally Ann Howes grew up in a show business family led by her father, famous English comedian/actor Bobby Howes, her mother Patricia Malone and grandfather, Broadway director Capt. J.A.E. Malone. She had her first screen test offer on her 12th birthday and went on to star in several films before she turned 20, including Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh...
 
51.
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.
 
52.
Constance Cummings
Actress, Blithe Spirit
Coming from a musical family - her mother was a concert soprano - Constance Cummings made her show business debut in 1926 in regional stock theater, and by 1928 had appeared in her first Broadway play. Her success in the theater resulted in an invitation to Hollywood, where she went 1931. Although she played in more than 20 films...
 
53.
Kay Hammond
Actress, Blithe Spirit
Delightful, sophisticated English actress, daughter of the distinguished thespian Sir Guy Standing. Kay trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was taught elocution by Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She made her theatrical debut in "Tilly of Bloomsbury" in 1927. Within just a few years, she had established herself as a regular on the West End stage...
 
56.
 
57.
Valerie Hobson
Elegant, quintessentially English (although born in Northern Ireland) Valerie Hobson was the daughter of a British army officer. She studied dancing at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and appeared on the stage for the first time at age 16, but she contracted a case of scarlet fever and decided to give up dancing for acting...
 
58.
Martita Hunt
Actress, Becket
Popular British character actress known for her rich cluster of queens, dowagers, shrews and evildoers, Martita Hunt was born on a ranch in Argentina to British parents, but moved with her family to England at age 10 for her formal education. On stage at age 21 with the Liverpool Repertory Theatre,...
 
59.
Kim Hunter
Her father, Donald Cole, was a consulting engineer, and died in 1926 when Kim was only 3 years old. Her mother, Grace Lind, once performed as a concert pianist. She had one brother who was eight years older than she, and she was educated at Miami Beach High. According to an in-depth article on Kim Hunter by Joseph Collura in the October 2009 issue of "Classic Images"...
“ An American actress that worked in England and starred in A Matter of Life and Death. ” - minalex
 
60.
 
61.
Kathleen Byron
Kathleen Byron trained for the stage at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, beginning her work in the movies soon after she finished her training. Her early work with Michael Powell made her name in the UK. She went to Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s but found it difficult to break into the US productions...
 
62.
Flora Robson
Flora Robson knew she was no beauty, but her wise and sympathetic face would become a familiar - indeed, shining - ornament of the 1930s and 40s silver screen. Though not sure of acting as a career in her early years, she nevertheless appeared on stage for the first time at 5 years old. She was educated...
 
63.
Isobel Elsom
Actress, My Fair Lady
The epitome of opulent, grande dame haughtiness, British character actress Isobel Elsom began on the stage in 1911 and went on to grace a number of silent and sound pictures in England, marrying and divorcing director Maurice Elvey in the interim. In the late 30s she settled in America and earned major Broadway success with the play "Ladies in Retirement," which she also took to film in 1941...
 
64.
 
65.
Moira Shearer
Actress, Peeping Tom
Moira was born the daughter of Harold V. King in Dunfermline, Scotland. She was educated at Dunfermline High School, Ndola in Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Bearsden Academy, Scotland. She received her professional training at the Mayfair School and The Nicholas Legat Studio. She made her debut in the International Ballet with 1941 and then danced at Sadler's Wells in 1942...
 
66.
 
67.
Eileen Herlie
This vibrant Scottish character actress managed in her seven-decade career trek to not only brighten up the Broadway stage during the 1950s and 1960s in roles ranging from the man-searching milliner Irene Malloy to Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude, but conquered the TV market too, delighting daytime audiences...
 
68.
Alida Valli
Actress, The Third Man
Enigmatic, dark-haired foreign import Alida Valli was dubbed "The Next Garbo" but didn't live up to postwar expectations despite her cool, patrician beauty, remote allure and significant talent. Born in Pola, Italy (now Croatia), on May 3, 1921, the daughter of a Tridentine journalist and professor and an Istrian homemaker...
“ An Italian actress that worked in England and starred in The Third Man. ” - minalex
 
69.
“ An Austrian actress that appeared in The Third Man. ” - minalex
 
70.
Joan Greenwood
Joan Greenwood, of the plummy feline voice, was born in the well-to-do London section of Chelsea, the daughter of renowned portrait painter Sydney Earnshaw Greenwood (1887-1949). Dancing from the age of eight, she took ballet lessons and later enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Graduating at age 18...
 
71.
Norma Varden
The daughter of a retired sea captain and his much-younger wife, actress Norma Varden was born and raised in turn-of-the-century London. A piano prodigy, she studied in Paris and appeared in concert in England during her teenage years. Acting, however, became her career of choice, studying at the Guildhall School of Music...
 
72.
 
73.
Queenie Leonard
Pearl Walker (Queenie Leonard), actress and singer was born on 7 April 1905. She had already amassed 20 years of stage and screen experience when, in 1941, she made the first of more than 30 Hollywood films. She also appeared in cabaret in England and in the United States, starred in a one-woman show...
 
74.
Nora Swinburne
Actress, The River
Known for her genteel ways and stately beauty in tea service drama, British actress Nora Swinburne was born Elinore Johnson on July 24, 1902, in Bath, England. Performing on stage as both actress and dancer from the age of 10, her father, Henry Swinburne Johnson, manufactured toys for a living. She was a member of Clive Currie's Young Players in 1914 and appeared in shows during that year...
 
75.
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...
 
76.
Ann Todd
Ann Todd was a beautiful English actress best known as Gregory Peck's wife in Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case. Her third husband was the legendary director David Lean, for whom she appeared in three films, The Passionate Friends, Madeleine, and Breaking the Sound Barrier.
 
77.
Dorothy Tutin
Actress, Cromwell
Dame Dorothy Tutin's esteemed company of peers included other remarkable dames, including Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Unlike these others, Dorothy had limited screen time over the years and would develop the respect but not the stardom afforded the other two outside the realm of the theatre...
 
78.
Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. She was a blue-blood and a cosmopolitan from birth. Her mother, Ella van Heemstra, was a Dutch baroness, and her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, was born in Úzice, Bohemia, of English and Austrian descent, and worked in business...
 
79.
Heather Angel
Actress, Peter Pan
Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909. She dabbled on the stage for a time before coming to California to try her luck on the screen. Heather was 20 years old when she landed a bit part for the 1929 film, Bulldog Drummond. Although she didn't know it at the time, she would become a staple of that particular series eight years hence...
 
80.
Kathryn Beaumont
Kathryn Beaumont was just ten years old when she was chosen for the voice of Alice, in Disney's animated version of the classic children's tale, Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney was so impressed with Kathryn's long curly blonde hair, sparkling eyes and acting ability, that he chose her as the model for Alice.
 
81.
 
83.
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...
 
84.
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...
 
85.
 
86.
Dana Wynter
The daughter of a noted surgeon, Dana Wynter was born Dagmar Winter in Berlin, Germany, and grew up in England. When she was 16 her father went to Morocco to operate on a woman who wouldn't allow anyone else to attend her; he visited friends in Southern Rhodesia, fell in love with it and brought his daughter and her stepmother to live with him there...
 
87.
Brenda de Banzie
The daughter of a musical conductor, fair-haired, slightly plump Brenda de Banzie appeared in just a handful of films. As the result of two outstanding performances, she became an unexpected star when well into her middle age. Brenda first came to public notice as a sixteen year old chorine on the London stage in "Du Barry Was a Lady"...
 
89.
Pamela Brown
Actress, Cleopatra
Pamela Brown trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Her first appearance was as "Juliet" in "Romeo and Juliet" at Stratford-on-Avon in 1936. She followed this with a variety of roles for the Old Vic Company in London. She appeared on Broadway in the 1947 production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde...
 
90.
Una O'Connor
Delightful character actress who held her own against such acting heavyweights as Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, and Sydney Greenstreet. Often cast by studio heads as comic relief thanks to her thick Irish accent and rubber-faced expressions, most notably in Universal's horror classics...
 
92.
Cathleen Nesbitt
Diminutive, genteel Cathleen Nesbitt was a grand dame of the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic in a career spanning seven decades. Among almost 300 roles on stage, she excelled at comic portrayals of sophisticated socialites and elegant mothers. Hollywood used her, whenever a gentler, sweeter version of Gladys Cooper was needed...
 
94.
Dawn Addams
Maybe because her beauty was too smooth or because her acting talents were limited or both, Dawn Addams, the daughter of an R.A.F. officer, had an undistinguished film career, in which second-rate pictures far outnumber quality ones. Among the latter: Otto Preminger's risqué (for its time) The Moon Is Blue, Charles Chaplin's bitter A King in New York and Fritz Lang's last The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse.
 
95.
 
97.
Isabel Jeans
Actress, Gigi
Stately Isabel Jeans was brought to Hollywood by the director Anatole Litvak to appear as Fermonde Dupond in his comedy Tovarich. The daughter of an art critic, Frederick George Jeans, she had aspired to be a singer but instead forged a career on the stage. Her first role came courtesy of theatre legend Herbert Beerbohm Tree when she was fifteen years old...
 
99.
Yôko Tani
Diminutive, graceful, porcelain pretty Japanese actress Yoko Tani was born and raised in France and was making a living as a Parisienne dancer when opportunities for film came her way in the mid-1950s. Appearing in a number of minor Eurasian parts in such French films as Marchandes d'illusions [Nights of Shame]...
“ A Japanese actress that lived and worked in Europe, always available for Asian roles, she starred in The Wind Cannot Read. ” - minalex