Brenda Blethyn at 43rd KVIFF, 2008
|Born||Brenda Anne Bottle
20 February 1946
Ramsgate, Kent, England
|Domestic partner(s)||Michael Mayhew|
Brenda Blethyn, OBE (born 20 February 1946) is an English actress and author. Blethyn began her career on stage as a member of the National Theatre company, and made her first television appearance in 1980. Following her big screen debut with smaller supporting roles in films such as The Witches (1990) and A River Runs Through It (1992), she made her break-through role in the 1996 dramedy Secrets & Lies, for which she was awarded a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination.
Blethyn has appeared in an eclectic range of films, including independent comedies such as Saving Grace (2000), Plots with a View (2002) and Clubland (2007), music-themed films like Little Voice (1998) and Beyond the Sea (2004) and big-budget films such as Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). In addition, Blethyn has also appeared in television productions including The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), Belonging (2004) and War and Peace (2007).
Born Brenda Anne Bottle in Ramsgate, Kent, England, Blethyn is the youngest of nine children of a conservative Roman Catholic working class family. Her mother, Louisa Kathleen (née Supple, b. 1904), was a housewife and former maid, who met Blethyn's father, William Charles Bottle (b. 1894), around 1922 while working for the same household in Broadstairs, Kent. Bottle had previously worked as a shepherd, and spent six years in India with the Royal Field Artillery immediately prior to returning home to Broadstairs to become the family's chauffeur. Yet before the war, he found work as a mechanic at the Vauxhall car factory in Luton, Bedfordshire.
The family lived in poor circumstances at their maternal grandmother's home. It was however not until 1944, after an engagement of twenty years and the death of their gran, the couple eventually married and moved into a small-roomed rented house in Ramsgate. By the time Blethyn was born in 1946, her three eldest siblings, Pam, Ted and Bernard, had already left home. Her parents were the first to introduce Blethyn to the cinema, as they took their youngest child to the films weekly.
Blethyn originally trained at technical college and worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper for a bank. At the end of a marriage, she opted to turn her hobby of amateur dramatics to her professional advantage. After studying at the Guildford School of Acting, she went onto the London stage in 1976, performing several seasons at the Royal National Theatre. The shows she participated in during the following three years, included Troilus and Cressida, Tamburlaine the Great, Bedroom Farce, The Passion and Strife.
After winning the London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress (for Steaming) in 1980, Blethyn made her screen debut, starring in the play Grown Ups as part of the BBC's Playhouse strand. Directed by Mike Leigh, their first collaboration marked the start of a professional relationship which would later earn both huge acclaim. Blethyn followed this with roles in Shakespearean adaptations for the BBC, playing Cordelia in King Lear and Joan of Arc in the Henry VI cycle. She also appeared with Robert Bathurst and others in the popular BBC Radio 4 comedy series Dial M for Pizza.
In the following years Blethyn expanded her status as a professional stage actress, appearing in productions including A Midsummer's Night Dream, Dalliance, The Beaux' Stratagem and Born Yesterday. She was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance as Sheila in Benefactors. Meanwhile she continued with roles on British television, playing opposite Simon Callow as Tom Chance's frustrated fiancée Alison Little in three series of the sitcom Chance in a Million. She also had roles in comedies such as Yes Minister (1981) and Who Dares Wins, as well as playing a variety of roles in the BBC Radio 4 comedy Delve Special alongside Stephen Fry.
In 1989 she starred in The Labours of Erica, a sitcom written for her by Chance in a Million writers Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss. Blethyn played Erica Parsons, a single mother approaching her 40th birthday who realises that life is passing her by. Finding her teenage diary and discovering a list of twelve tasks and ambitions she had set for herself, Erica sets out to complete them before reaching the milestone.
After fifteen years of working in theatre and television Brenda Blethyn made her big screen debut with a small role in 1990s dark fantasy film The Witches. The film, based on the same-titled book by Roald Dahl, co-starred actresses Anjelica Huston and Jane Horrocks. Witches received generally positive performances — as did Blethyn, who Craig Butler of All Media Guide considered as a "valuable support" for her performance of the mother, Mrs. Jenkins.
It took another two years until Blethyn was cast for a next role in Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It. She played Mrs. Maclean, a Reverend's wife and soft-spoken mother of two fly-fishing sons (Craig Sheffer, and Brad Pitt) from Montana. The Academy Award winning film became a critical and financial success, grossing more than US$43,440,000 domestically.
Simultaneously Blethyn continued working on stage and in British television. Between 1990 and 1996 she starred in five different plays, including An Ideal Husband at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Tales from the Vienna Woods and Wildest Dreams with the Royal Shakespeare Company and her American stage debut Absent Friends, for which eventually received a Theatre World Award for Outstanding New Talent. Besides she played character parts in the BBC adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia and the ITV cricketing comedy-drama series Outside Edge, based on the play by tevision writer Richard Harris. Blethyn also performed in a variety of episodes of Alas Smith & Jones and Maigret.
Blethyn's breakthrough role came with Mike Leigh's film drama Secrets & Lies (1996). She portrayed Cynthia Rose Purley, a lower-class white woman, who after years once again comes in contact with her grown-up black daughter (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste). For her improvised performance (Leigh favours improvisation, which he then works into scripts) Blethyn was praised with a variety of awards, including the Best Actress Award at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe and a first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. On filming, Brenda stated: "I knew it was a great film, but I didn't expect it to get the attention it did because none of his (Leigh's) other films had and I thought they were just as good. Of course, I didn't know what it was about until I saw it in the cinema because of the way that he works — but I knew it was good. That it reached a wider audience surprised me." Besides critical acclaim Secrets & Lies also became a financial success; budgeted at an estimated $4,5 million, the film grossed unexpected $13,5 million in its limited theatrical run in North America.
As a result Blethyn gained opportunities to work in film work and in 1998 Blethyn starred in five different films. The following year she was again Oscar nominated, this time for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the domineering yet needy mother in Little Voice opposite Jane Horrocks and Michael Caine.
Blethyn's first film of 2000 was the indie comedy Saving Grace with Craig Ferguson. Blethyn played a middle-aged newly widowed woman who is faced with the prospect of financial ruin and turns to growing marijuana under the tutelage of her gardener in order to save her home. Her performance in the film received favorable reviews; Peter Travers wrote for Rolling Stone: "It's Blethyn's solid-gold charm [that] turns Saving Grace into a comic high." The following year, Blethyn received her third Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nomination for her role in the film, which grossed an unexpected $24 million worldwide. That same year, she also had a smaller role in the short comedy Yes You Can.
In 2001 Blethyn signed on to star in her own CBS sitcom, The Seven Roses, in which she was to play the role of a widowed innkeeper and matriarch of an eccentric family. Originally slated to be produced by two former executive producers of Frasier, plans for a pilot eventually went nowhere due to early casting conflicts. Afterwards Blethyn accepted a supporting role as Auguste van Pels in the ABC mini series Anne Frank: The Whole Story based on the book by Melissa Müller, for which she garnered her first Emmy Award nomination.
Following this, Blethyn starred in the films Daddy and Them, On the Nose, and Lovely & Amazing. In Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy and Them, she portrayed an English neurotic psychologist, who feels excluded by the American clan she married into due to her nationality. The film scored a generally positive reception but was financially unsuccessful, leading to a direct-to-TV release stateside. In Canadian-Irish comedy On the Nose, Blethyn played the minor role of the all-disapproving wife of Brendan Delaney, played by Robbie Coltrane. Her appearance was commented as "underused" by Harry Guerin, writer for RTÉ Entertainment. Blethyn depicted an affluent but desperate and distracted matriarch of three daughters in Nicole Holofcener's independent drama Lovely & Amazing, featuring Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film became Blethyn's biggest box-office success of the year with a worldwide gross of $5 million only, and earned the actress mixed reviews from professional critics.
In 2002 Blethyn appeared with Christina Ricci in the dark comedy Pumpkin, a financial disaster. The film opened to little notice and grossed less than $300,000 during its North American theatrical run. Her performance as the overprotective wine-soaked mother of a disabled teenage boy generated Blethyn mostly critical reviews, with Entertainment Weekly writer Lisa Schwarzbaum calling her "challenged, unsure [... and] miscast." Her following film, limitedly-released Nicolas Cage's Sonny, saw similar success. While the production was panned in genernal, the actress earned mixed reviews for her performance of an eccentric ex-prostitute and mother, as some critics such as Kevin Thomas considered her casting as "problematic [due to] caricatured acting." Blethyn eventually received more acclaim when she accepted the lead role in the dark comedy Plots with a View. Starring alongside Alfred Molina, the pair was praised for their "genuine chemistry."
A year after Blethyn co-starred with Bob Hoskins and Jessica Alba in historical direct-to-video drama The Sleeping Dictionary. The film earned her a DVDX Award but received mixed critics — as did Blizzard, a Christmas movie in which Blethyn played the eccentric character of Aunt Millie, the narrator of the film's story. 2003 ended with the mini series Between the Sheets, in which Blethyn starred as a woman struggling with her own ambivalent feelings towards her husband and sex. Blethyn co-starred as Bobby Darin's mother Polly Cassatto in Beyond the Sea, a 2004 biopic about the singer. The film was a financial disappointment: budgeted at an estimated US$25 million, it opened to little notice and grossed only $6 million in its North American theatrical run. Blethyn, though, earned positive reviews for her performance, with Robin Clifford of Reeling calling her "period perfect as a song and dance vet." Afterwards Blethyn starred in A Way of Life, playing a bossy and censorious mother-in-law of a struggling young woman, played by Stephanie James, and in the television film Belonging, staring as a middle-aged childless woman, who is left to look after the elderly relatives of her husband and to make a new life for herself, after he leaves her for a younger woman. Blethyn received a Golden FIPA Award and a BAFTA nomination for the latter role.
In early 2005, Blethyn appeared in the indie-drama On a Clear Day alongside Peter Mullan. In the film, she played the character of Joan, a Glasgow housewife, who secretly enrolls in bus-driving classes after her husband's dismissal. Her performance in the film received positive reviews; ABC writer MaryAnn Johanson wrote: "It's Blethyn, who wraps the movie in a cosy, comfortable, maternal hug that reassures you that it will weather its risk-taking with aplomb [...]." The film became a minor success at the international box-office chart, barely grossing $1 million worldwide, but was awarded a BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Film and Screenplay.
A major hit for Blethyn came with Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice, a 2005 adaptation of the same-titled novel by Jane Austen. Starring alongside Keira Knightley and Donald Sutherland, Blethyn played Mrs. Bennet, a fluttery mother of five sisters who desperately schemes to marry her daughters off to men of means. During promotion of the film, she noted of her portrayal of the character: "I've always thought she had a real problem and shouldn't be made fun of. She's pushy with a reason. As soon as Mr. Bennet dies, all the money goes down the male line; she has to save her daughters from penury." With both a worldwide gross of over US$121 million and several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, the film became a critical and commercial success, spawning Blethyn another BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
In 2007, she appeared in the independent Australian coming-of-age comedy Clubland. Playing a character that was created specifically with her in mind, Blethyn portrayed a bawdy stand-up comedian with a sinking career faced with the romantic life of her young son, played by Khan Chittenden. The film was released in Australia in June 2007, and selected for screening at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Warner Independent Pictures for a $4 million dollar deal and gained glowing reviews. Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano wrote, "the movie belongs to Blethyn, who takes a difficult, easily misunderstood role and gracefully cracks it open to reveal what's inside." The following year, she was nominated for an Australian Film Institute Award and an Inside Film Award for her performance.
Also in 2007, Blethyn reunited with Joe Wright on Atonement, an adaption from Ian McEwan's critically-acclaimed novel of the same name. On her role of a housekeeper in a cast that also features Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, Blethyn commented: "It's a tiny, tiny part. If you blink you'll miss me." The film garnered generally positive reviews from film critics and received a Best Picture nomination at the 2008 Academy Awards. A box-office success around the globe, it went on to gross a total of $129 million worldwide. Blethyn also appeared as Márja Dmitrijewna Achrosímowa in a supporting role in the internationally produced 2007 miniseries War & Peace by RAI, filmed in Russia and Lithuania.
In 2008, the actress made her American television debut with a guest stint on CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine as Julia Louis-Dreyfus neurotic mother. In addition, she appeared in a single season ten episode of the NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for which she was nominated for another Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series in 2009.
Blethyn's first film in two years, Rachid Bouchareb's London River opened at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival in 2009 where it won a Special Mention by the Ecumenical Jury. In the film, for which Blethyn had to learn French, she portrays a mother waiting for news of her missing child after the London bombings of July 2005, striking up a friendship with a Muslim man, whose child has also disappeared. Blethyn, who had initially felt sceptical and reticent about the film due to its background, was originally not available for filming but Bouchareb decided to delay filming to work with her.
Blethyn married Alan James Blethyn, a graphic designer she met while working for British Rail, in 1964. The marriage lasted until 1973, when Alan fell in love with a neighbour. Blethyn kept her husband's surname as her professional name. Currently, she is in a relationship with UK art director Michael Mayhew, her partner of three decades. The couple has remained unmarried since and are without children of their own.
|1990||The Witches||Mrs. Jenkins|
|1992||A River Runs Through It||Mrs. Maclean|
|1996||Secrets & Lies||Cynthia Rose Purley||BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Cannes Film Festival – Best Actress Award
Empire Award – Best British Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Chlotrudis Award for Best Actress
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture
|1998||Girl's Night||Dawn Wilkinson|
|Night Train||Alice Mooney|
|In the Winter Dark||Ida Stubbs|
|Little Voice||Mari Hoff||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
|Music from Another Room||Grace Swan|
|2000||Saving Grace||Grace Trevethyn||Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Empire Award for Best British Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominated — London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
|2001||Anne Frank: The Whole Story||Auguste van Pels||Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress - Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries or Television Film
|Daddy and Them||July Montgomery|
|Lovely & Amazing||Jane Marks|
|On the Nose||Mrs. Delaney|
|Plots with a View||Betty Rhys-Jones|
|The Wild Thornberrys Movie||Mrs. Fairgood|
|2003||The Sleeping Dictionary||Aggie||DVDX Award for Best Supporting Actress in a DVD Premiere Movie|
|2004||Piccadilly Jim||Nina Banks|
|Beyond the Sea||Polly Cassatto|
|A Way of Life||Annette|
|Belonging||Jess Copple||Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels — Fiction: Actress
Nominated — British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
|2005||Pooh's Heffalump Movie||Mama Heffalump|
|On a Clear Day||Joan|
|Pride & Prejudice||Mrs. Bennet||Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated — London Film Critics Circle Award for British Supporting Actress of the Year
Nominated — Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
|2006||Mysterious Creatures||Wendy Ainscow|
|2007||Clubland||Jean||Nominated — AFI Award for Best Lead Actress
Nominated — Inside Film Award for Best Actress
|War & Peace||Márja Dmitrijewna Achrosímowa|
|2009||London River||Elisabeth Sommers|
|Tigger and Pooh and A Musical Too||Mama Heffalump|
|The Calling||Sister Ignatious|
|Dead Man Running||Mother|
|No One Gets Off in This Town||Mother||pre-production|