Friday, 20 February 2015


British actresses could pick up a coveted Academy Award this year. Matt Warren takes a colourful look back at the very special ladies who already have…

Written by Matt Warren
Vivien Leigh was the very first. Olivia de Havilland and Glenda Jackson have done it twice. And this weekend, Keira Knightley, Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike are all in with a chance.

So what am I talking about? Well, the Oscars of course – and the British ladies who have returned home with one of their very own.

This year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the 87th, is to be staged on Sunday (22 February) – and could yet result in a gong for a home-grown actress. Felicity Jones, who played the wife of physicist Stephen Hawking in recent biopic The Theory Of Everything, thrilled the critics, as did Rosamund Pike in the big-screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, Gone Girl. They are both competing for the best actress gong and while neither is favourite to win – Julianne Moore is hotly tipped in this category for her role in Still Alice – stranger things have happened.

Oscars-Feb20-02-590And our contenders are: Rosamund Pike

In the best supporting actress category, Keira Knightley is flying the flag for Britain. Again, Knightley isn’t favourite – Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) is way ahead at the bookies – but she put in a fine turn as Joan Clarke, the Bletchley Park codebreaker who was briefly engaged to Alan Turing, in The Imitation Game.

If either Jones or Pike do win, they will join an elite and iconic group. Only 12 British actresses (13 if you count Belgian-born Audrey Hepburn) have been awarded the best actress Oscar. Vivien Leigh brought the first one home in 1939 for her timeless performance as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, a film that picked up 10 Academy Awards.


Leigh certainly took pride in her work. For her, acting was the drug, not the fame it brought. ‘I’m not a film star – I’m an actress,’ she once said. ‘Being a film star – just a film star – is such a false life, lived for fake values and for publicity.’

Hardly surprising, then, that she picked up another in 1951, for her star turn in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Hers wasn’t quite the most impressive record, however. Olivia de Havilland (for To Each His Own, and The Heiress) and Glenda Jackson (Women In Love, and A Touch Of Class) both won their two awards within the space of just three years – de Havilland in 1946 and 1949, and Jackson in 1970 and 1973.

Oscars-Feb20-04-590And our contenders are (from left): Keira Knightley and Felicity Jones

It takes all sorts – at least when it comes to roles. Maggie Smith (1969) won hers for The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, playing an Edinburgh schoolteacher, while Helen Mirren (2006) won hers for portraying the world’s most famous woman, the Queen. ‘For 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty – and her hairstyle,’ Mirren said at the time.

Julie Andrews (1964) sang her way to a gong for Mary Poppins, while the most recent British best actress, Kate Winslet (2008), scooped hers for a truly harrowing performance in The Reader, a film about a Nazi concentration camp guard finally coming to terms with her crimes. Emma Thompson (1992) brought an EM Forster novel, Howards End, to life.

Oscars-Feb20-05-590Julie Andrews sang her way to an award in 1964 for Mary Poppins

Of course, plenty more British women have won Oscars in the best supporting actress category, not least Judi Dench, who famously won the award playing Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love – a role that only lasts for a matter of minutes. ‘I feel for eight minutes on the screen I should only get a little bit of him,’ she quipped on receiving the Oscar. As I said before, stranger things have happened. 

The Oscars 2015: Red Carpet Live will air on 22 February from 11:30pm to 1:30am on Sky Movies Oscars and Sky Living, before the 87th Academy Awards ceremony itself airs live on Sky Movies Oscars from 1:30am to 4:30am.

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