Nextgen British actresses excel at both indie drama and blockbuster action, Part 1

Although it’s been 6 years since a British woman last won an Oscar (Kate Winslet for The Reader), actresses from the UK are very much present and accounted for in a wide range of critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies. Having watched Felicity Jones earlier this year in The Theory of Everything and Emily Blunt’s tour-de-force performance in Sicario a few weeks ago, I started thinking about how comfortably this new generation of British actresses are at dramatic and action roles, indie films and Hollywood blockbusters. Naturally, a bout of list-making followed and I ended up with 12 names. Here’s the first part of the list:-

Since 2005, Hayley Atwell (33) has had supporting roles in various British TV films, mini-series and two notable period films Brideshead Revisited and The Duchess. But her first real chance at stardom came in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and she took full advantage. Her memorable performance as the plucky British agent Peggy Carter made her a household name and led to a spin-off TV series Agent Carter (much enjoyed by our entire family!), now gearing up for Season 2; she’s also had cameos playing this character in 3 subsequent Marvel movies. This hasn’t left her time for anything other than a couple of supporting roles (one of them in the excellent anti-war film Testament of Youth from earlier this year). But as the Marvel films move into Phase 3 and Peggy Carter exits the timeline, Ms. Atwell will have to move on to new projects and I look forward to seeing what she picks up.

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Emily Blunt‘s first lead role was in My Summer of Love (2004) as a ‘minxy’ upper-class girl who spends a summer in the countryside and disrupts the lives of everyone around her; it’s a slow-burn movie, but definitely worth watching. A few TV roles followed before her global breakout as the ‘bitchy’ personal assistant to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Then came several dramatic roles including the excellent 2009 period film The Young Victoria (below left), one of my favorites, and a must-see for anyone whose only image of Queen Victoria is that of a glum and rotund monarch. In 2011, Ms. Blunt acted in the scifi film The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon. This seems to have kicked off a love affair with the scifi/ action genre and I love every one of them, intelligent scripts, solid acting, good blend of character development and action – Looper, Edge of Tomorrow (below right) and most recently, Sicario. Whichever talent agent is bringing her these scripts is doing an amazing job; in fact, I believe the 32-year-old should get an Oscar nomination for Sicario. If she wins, it would put her into the big league of actresses who can headline blockbusters and win awards. If she can keep up the balance of dramatic and action roles, she could, in time, be mentioned in the same breath as Julie Christie, Helen Mirren, Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench. Each of them have won Oscars, have comfortably straddled art and commercial cinema and are considered the best British actresses of their generation. Ms Blunt will next be seen in the film adaptation of the bestseller The Girl on the Train, which I think could become next year’s Gone Girl.

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Felicity Jones (31) has had lots of TV acting experience, has shared a movie with Daniel Craig (though they weren’t on screen together in Flashbacks of a Fool) and appeared in more than a dozen movies before her global breakout role in The Theory of Everything for which she was Oscar nominated earlier this year. She did get some minor award nods in 2011 for the indie film Like Crazy, where she plays a British college student who falls in love with her American classmate and then is separated from him due to visa trouble; it’s an understated but convincing acting performance, bringing alive the foolishness, spontaneity and desperation of young love. An even more powerful performance followed two years later as Charles Dickens’ lovelorn and conflicted mistress in The Invisible Woman (below left). Frankly, I thought it was as good or better than her Oscar nominated performance a year later; unfortunately the film itself had a very limited run in theaters. Ms. Jones’ small role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the seed for a future appearance as anti-heroine Black Cat, but with the franchise being ‘re-rebooted’ with a new cast, that appears highly unlikely. No worries for her though, as she has two big action movies in late 2016; first comes the third Robert Langdon film adaptation Inferno, opposite Tom Hanks; and then (perhaps following Emily Blunt’s footsteps), she will play the lead in a scifi/ action film, none other than the first Star Wars spin-off –  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (below right).

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Lily James (26) is well known to all Downton Abbey (below left) fans as the irrepressible and somewhat irresponsible young Lady Rose who eventually ‘grows up’, shows she has a heart of gold and wins the affection of all around her. She leveraged that small-screen popularity very quickly into a big-screen role in Disney’s live action adaptation of Cinderella, which was quite well received. She is very busy now with 3 projects coming out in 2016 – she plays Natalya Rostova in a 6-part TV mini-series adaptation of War and Peace; then at the other end of the spectrum, she plays Elizabeth Bennett in the horror-comedy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (below right) from the man who brought you Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…don’t ask, there’s an entire series of such novels; and her third release of 2016 is the big-screen adaptation of the World War II story The Kaiser’s Last Kiss. She finally gets a chance to stop wearing period costumes and moves on to acclaimed and edgy British writer-director Edgar Wright’s next film Baby Driver, prepping for a 2017 release. I’m not sure if there are any acting awards in Lily James’ future, but for sure she is seeking out some high profile and left-of-center projects!

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Part 2 to follow…

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