Brenda Blethyn

Infobox actor
name = Brenda Blethyn

caption = Brenda Blethyn at 43rd KVIFF
birthdate = birth date and age|1946|2|20
birthname = Brenda Anne Bottle
birthplace = Ramsgate, Kent, England
spouse = Michael Mayhew
goldenglobeawards = Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1997 "Secrets & Lies"
baftaawards = Best Actress in a Leading Role
1997 "Secrets & Lies"
awards = Best Actress Award - Cannes Film Festival
1996 "Secrets & Lies"

Brenda Blethyn OBE (born 20 February 1946) is a Golden Globe-winning English film, stage, television and voice actress, and writer. Blethyn performs predominantly in leading roles in a variety of films, ranging from comedies and dramas to historical films and crimes. She is best known for her films released in the 1990s and 2000s, including "Secrets & Lies" (1996), "Little Voice" (1998), "Saving Grace" (2000), and "Pride & Prejudice" (2005).

Early life

Born Brenda Anne Bottle in Ramsgate, Kent, England, Blethyn is the youngest of nine children of a working-class Roman Catholic family. Her mother, Louisa Kathleen (née Supple), was a homemaker, and her father, William Charles Bottle, was a mechanical engineer. [ [ Brenda Blethyn Biography (1946-)] ] The family lived in modest circumstances, influenced by after-war rationing in England. Her late parents were the first to introduce Blethyn to the cinema, as they took their youngest child to the movies weekly. [ [ New High For Brenda] . "Toronto Sun". August 8, 2000.]

Blethyn originally graduated technical college and worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper for a bank. While she was in employment, she married Alan James Blethyn, a graphic designer she met while working for British Rail. This marriage lasted until 1973. [cite web|url=|title= Brenda Blethyn: from Secrets & Lies to Pride and Prejudice|accessdate= 2008-04-12|author= Ed Potton|date= 2008-04-12|publisher= The Times] On splitting from her husband, 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". [ [ Profile] . Retrieved December 2005.]



After winning the London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress (for the play "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, the pair's 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 alongside 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' Stratem" and "Born Yesterday". She was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance as Sheila in the play "Benefactors". Meanwhile Blethyn 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 guested in comedies such as "Yes Minister" 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 finally 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. [Craig Butler [ All Movie Guide: "The Witches" review] . Retrieved 2003.]

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. [ [ Box Office — "A Rivers Runs Though It"] . Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 21 March 2006]

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 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 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. [ [ Box Office — "Secrets & Lies"] . The Numbers.]

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 "Saving Grace" with Craig Ferguson and Martin Clunes. 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 family home. The film failed to create an immense buzz at the box office but received critical acclaim.cite web|title="Saving Grace"|work=Rotten Tomaotes|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] Peter Travers of "Rolling Stone" saw its strength in "Blethyn's solid-gold charm [that] turns "Saving Grace" into a comic high."cite web|author=Peter Travers|title="Saving Grace"|work=Rolling Stone|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] The following year, Blethyn received her third Golden Globe nomination for her role in the film.

In 2001 Blethyn signed on to star in her own CBS sitcom, "The Seven Roses", playing the role of Pamela, 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.cite web|title="Oscar-winner Signs Up for Sitcom"|work=Canoe JAM!|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] Afterwards Blethyn accepted a supporting role as Auguste van Pels opposite Ben Kingsley in ABC mini series "" based on the book "Anne Frank: The Biography" by Melissa Müller. Her performance of Auguste van Pels earned Blethyn her first Emmy nomination.

In the same year Blethyn also co-starred as a neurotic psychologist in Billy Bob Thornton's direct-to-TV comedy "Daddy and Them", while playing an all-disapproving wife in the Irish comedy "On the Nose" (alongside Robbie Coltrane and Dan Aykroyd) and an affluent but desperate and distracted matriarch of three daughters in Nicole Holofcener's moderately successful independent drama "Lovely & Amazing". Her performances earned the actress mixed to positive reviews from professional critics.cite web|author=Peter Travers|title="Lovely & Amazing"|work=Rolling Stone|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] cite web|author=Kenneth Turan|title="Lovely & Amazing" review|work=Los Angeles Times|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07]

In 2002 Blethyn appeared with Christina Ricci in the dark comedy "Pumpkin", a critical and financial disaster. The film opened to little notice and grossed only $107,800 in its North American theatrical run.cite web|title="Pumpkin" - Box Office|work=Rotten Tomatoes|url=|accessdate=2006-05-28] Blethyn's following film, Nicolas Cage's "Sonny", saw similar success. The actress earned mixed reviews for her performance of an eccentric ex-prostitute and mother, as some critics considered her casting as "problematic" due to "caricatured" acting.cite web|author=Kevin Thomas|title="Sonny" review|work=Calendar Live|url=,0,3353862.story|accessdate=2006-06-30] Blethyn eventually received more acclaim when she appeared in British black comedy "Plots with a View" (also known as "Undertaking Betty"). Starring alongside Alfred Molina, the pair was praised for their "genuine chemistry."cite web|title="Undertaking Betty" review|work=Reelfilms|url=|accessdate=2006-06-30]

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.cite web|title="Blizzard"|work=Rotten Tomaotes|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] 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.cite web|title="Beyond the Sea" box offive|work=Rotten Tomatoes|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] Blethyn, though, earned positive reviews for her performance, with Robin Clifford of "Reeling" calling her "period perfect as a song and dance vet".cite web|title="Beyond the Sea" review|author=Robin Clifford|work=Reeling Reviews|url=|accessdate=2007-07-07] Afterwards Blethyn starred in "A Way of Life", playing a bossy and censorious mother-in-law of a struggling young woman, and in the television film "Belonging", playing 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 Brenda Blethyn appeared in "On a Clear Day" alongside Peter Mullan. In the drama, Blethyn played the character Joan, a housewife, who secretly enrolls in bus-driving classes after her husband's dismissal. ABC's 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 ..." [Margaret Pomeranz. [ "On a Clear Day" review] . ABC — At the Movies. Retrieved December 2005.] The film became a moderate success at the UK box office chart. A major hit for Blethyn came with "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. With a gross of over US$100 million worldwide, the film became a financial and critical success, receiving several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Blethyn once again was nominated for a BAFTA Award.

On October 2, 2006 Blethyn released her autobiography "Mixed Fancies". She discussed the book and her life in an in-depth interview with in the week of the book's release. [ [ stv interview] ]

In 2007, she appeared in the historical mini series "War and Peace", as well as the Australian coming-of-age comedy "Clubland" (titled "Introducing the Dwights" elsewhere) where she plays a bawdy RSL club comedian with a sinking career faced with the romatic life of her young son and critically-acclaimed "Atonement", an adaption from Ian McEwan's novel of the same name.

Personal life

After divorcing Alan Blethyn, a graphic designer, in 1973, 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 are without children of their own. Blethyn was awarded the OBE for services to drama in the 2003 New Year Honours List.




External links

*imdb name|id=0000950|name=Brenda Blethyn
*cite journal|author=Duncan, Alistair|title=Luxury? I'd rather have Simplicity: Interview with Brenda Blethyn|journal=Voyager|month=July | year=2007|pages=24–30|url=

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