Secrets & Lies
"I was a novice as far as film was concerned. I'd been working for 20 years at the time, then all that happened." Brenda Blethyn speaks in reference to Secrets & Lies (1996) and her Academy Award nomination.
English Golden Globe-winning and Academy Award-nominated actress Brenda Blethyn garnered critical acclaim for her performance as a lower-class white woman who is the biological mother of a successful African-American woman in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies (1996) and as a domineering working-class mother of a gifted young woman nicknamed Little Voice (1998; adapted from Jim Cartwright's play) in director Mark Herman's film with the same name. The actress, who was awarded the O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2002 New Year's Eve Honors’ List has also starred in such films as The Witches (1990), A River Runs Through It (1992), Night Train (1998), Saving Grace (2000), Sonny (2002), The Sleeping Dictionary (2003), Beyond the Sea (2004), On a Clear Day (2005) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Her upcoming film projects include Atonement (alongside Keira Knightley and James McAvoy), No One Gets Off in This Town (with John Hurt and Gillian Anderson) and King of the Pipers (opposite Gabriel Byrne).
On a more personal note, the 5' 2”, auburn-haired British actress was married to graphic designer Alan James Blethyn. She is now reportedly in a relationship with UK art director Michael Mayhew, who works for the National Theatre.
Childhood and Family:
In Ramsgate, Kent, England, Brenda Anne Bottle was born on February 20, 1946, with an extra finger. She is the youngest of nine children of a working-class Roman Catholic family. Her father, William Charles Bottle, was an engineer and her mother, Louisa Kathleen Supple, was a homemaker. Brenda attended the Guildford School of Acting, in Guildford and graduated in 1974. She is also a graduate of the Thanet Technical College, in Kent, England.
Brenda married Alan James Blethyn, a graphic designer, but they divorced in 1973. After the divorce, Brenda kept her husband's surname as her professional name.
Brenda was awarded the O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2002 New Year's Eve Honors’ List.
A technical college graduate, Brenda Blethyn worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper until her late twenties. After divorcing her husband, she decided to turn her career into acting and began to hone in on her skills at the Guildford School of Acting in Guildford, Surrey, England. After stints with the Bubble Theatre and the Belgrade Theater of Coventry, she joined the Royal National Theatre in 1975. There, she performed in plays like Christopher Marlowe's two-part play “Tamburlaine,” Alan Ayckbourn's comedy “Bedroom Farce” (both directed by Peter Hall), “The Passion,” William Shakespeare's classic romantic comedy “A Midsummer's Night Dream” (both helmed by Bill Bryden), “The Beaux Strategem” and John Vanbrugh's “The Provok'd Wife” (directed by Peter Wood).
In 1980, Blethyn arrived on television with a starring role as Gloria in the play Grown-Ups, part of a “BBC's Playhouse” presentation. She also acted in “The Imitation Game,” as a part of BBC's anthology drama series “Play for Today.” The next year, she won the London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the play “Steaming.”
1984 saw Blethyn star with Simon Callow in the British comedy series “Chance in a Million” (Channel Four/Thames) as his long-suffering girlfriend Alison Little (1984-1986). Meanwhile, she continued working on stage and was nominated Actress of the Year in a New Play for the 1984 Laurence Olivier Award for her work in Michael Frayn’s “Benefactors.” She spent the rest of the 1980s in a British stage production of Garson Kanin's “Born Yesterday” in 1988 and playing the titular role in the British comedic series “The Labours of Erica” in 1989.
Blethyn made her full-fledged feature film debut in the US-produced film in 1990 with Nicolas Roeg's adaptation of a book by British author Roald Dahl, The Witches, alongside Anjelica Houston and Rowan Atkinson. And after appearing in the Off-Broadway production of Alan Ayckbourn's 1974 play “Absent Friends” in 1991, Blethyn had small role as the family matriarch in Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It (1992; with Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt), a period drama based on the 1976 semi-autobiographical novella with the same name by Norman Maclean. That same year, she returned to the British stage in Oscar Wilde's 1895 comedy “An Ideal Husband” and could be seen on BBC’s four-part drama series “The Buddha of Suburbia” (1993; starring Naveen Andrews).
Next, she co-starred with Timothy Spall in the British comedy series “Outside Edge” (1994) and performed in Alan Bennett's comedic play “Habeas Corpus” at the Donmar Theatre Warehouse in 1996. Also that year, Blethyn made her biggest breakthrough to date when she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her performance as Cynthia Rose Purley, a lower-class white woman and the biological mother of a successful African-American woman (played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste) in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies.
Following her stunning performance in Secrets & Lies, Blethyn teamed with Julie Walters to play two sisters-in-law in Nick Hurran's romantic drama comedy Girls Night (1997). The following year, Blethyn won critical praise for starring as the domineering working-class mother of a gifted young woman nicknamed Little Voice (played by Jane Horrocks), in director Mark Herman's film with the same name, which was adapted from Jim Cartwright's play “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.” The role earned Blethyn a second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress.
Blethyn wrapped up the decade by appearing in writer-director-actor Billy Bob Thornton’s independent dark comedy Daddy and Them (filmed in 1998; released theatrically in 2002; also starring Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Kelly Preston and Andy Griffith) and portrayed Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons in the HBO acclaimed biographical drama film RKO 281 (with Liev Schreiber, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith and John Malkovich). She also joined John Hurt in a dramatic escape on the Orient Express in John Lynch’s romantic drama thriller Night Train.
In the new millennium, Blethyn played the title role of an aristocratic widower forced by circumstances to plant marijuana in Nigel Cole's Sundance-premiered crime-comedy Saving Grace (alongside Craig Ferguson). She followed it up with an Emmy-nominated role as Auguste Rottgen-van Pels, the German-Jewish refugee who hid with Anne Frank during the Nazi Occupation, in the ABC biopic based on Melissa Muller's book, Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001; starring Hannah Taylor-Gordon and Ben Kingsley). She also played the mother of the title character (played by James Franco), a former male prostitute, in the Nicolas Cage directed crime drama film Sonny (2002), and returned to stage in October that year to play the title role of a middle-aged woman in George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren's Profession” at the Strand Theatre, in London, England, UK.
After co-starring as the wife of a military officer stationed in Malaysia in Guy Jenkin's period comedy Sleeping Dictionary (2003; with Jessica Alba, Bob Hoskins, Hugh Dancy and Emily Mortimer), Blethyn portrayed legendary signer Bobby Darin's (played by Kevin Spacey) mother in the Golden Globe-nominated biopic Beyond the Sea (2004; premiered that year at the Toronto International Film Festival). That same year, in November, Blethyn appeared opposite Edie Falco in Marsha Norman's play “Night Mother,” in New York City.
Next, film director Joe Wright handed her the role of Mrs. Bennet, the excitable and ill-bred wife of Mr. Bennet (played by Donald Sutherland) and mother of Elizabeth (played by Keira Knightley) in the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel, Pride & Prejudice (2005). She subsequently was cast as Peter Mullan's loving wife in Gaby Dellal's comedy/drama film On a Clear Day (2005) and released her self-written autobiography “Mixed Fancies” on October 2, 2006.
Recently, in 2007, Blethyn completed an Australian film by Cherie Nowlan titled Clubland, a sexual coming of age comedy in which she starred as a bawdy and risqué comedienne mother of a shy and inexperienced 20-year-old man (played by Khan Chittenden). She also just wrapped up Joe Wright's upcoming film, adapted from Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement (alongside Keira Knightley and James McAvoy), which is scheduled to be released in theaters August 31, 2007, and will soon finish filming a miniseries called “War and Peace,” which centers on five aristocratic families in Russia during the Napoleonic Era.
Blethyn is currently on set filming Richard Kwietniowski's comedy movie No One Gets Off in This Town, alongside John Hurt and Gillian Anderson. She will also co-star with Gabriel Byrne in Nick Hurran's upcoming romantic film, King of the Pipers.