Lesley Manville: A Journey Through Her Award-Winning Career

Lesley Manville: A Journey Through Her Award-Winning Career
Lesley Manville: A Journey Through Her Award-Winning Career

English actress Lesley Manville may not be a popular name to many TV and film audiences, but she’s one of her generation’s last few super-talented actresses. Over the years, Manville has accumulated credits in theater, television, and film, with several accolades for her performances. The East Sussex-born actress is also a singer whose training began when she was eight.

Besides Manville’s extensive work in theater, she’s known for her collaborations with English writer and director Mike Leigh in theater and film. Mike Leigh has a reputation for letting his cast improvise, with each cast only knowing about their character’s actions – making each actor’s reactions real. Here’s a look at all of her film collaborations with Mike Leigh and other top performances that earned her nominations at prestigious awards.

Grown-Ups (1980)

Lesley Manville in Grown-Ups (1980)

Grown-Ups (1980) was a BBC TV film first broadcast on BBC 2. The movie was the first time Lesley Manville and director Mike Leigh would collaborate in an on-screen production. In the film, Manville plays the character of Mandy. The movie follows Dick and Mandy, who started as friends but are recently married. While trying to settle down into their new apartment as newlyweds, they’re continuously intruded upon by Mandy’s older sister, Gloria. Things take a turn after Dick is frustrated with her constant visits and lashes out at Gloria. After resolving their issues, the couple decided to have a baby. Although Mike Leigh initially denied Grown-Ups as autobiographical, he later admitted the story had a significant semblance to his life growing up in Cavendish Road, Broughton.

High Hopes (1988)

Lesley Manville in High Hopes (1988)

High Hopes (1988) was the first time Mike Leigh and Lesley Manville would work together on the big screen. In the comedy-drama, Lesley played Laetitia Boothe-Braine. Although not the movie’s protagonist, Manville’s Laetitia was Shirley’s (Ruth Sheen) neighbor. The movie revolves around Shirley and her husband, Cyril (Phil Davis). As a working-class couple in London, the movie examines their relationship with family and friends.

Secrets & Lies (1996)

Lesley Manville in Secrets & Lies (1996)

A true work of Mike Leigh, Secrets & Lies is a 1996 drama about a black middle-class optometrist, Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who is determined to find her birth family. Against the advice of public officials, she finds her birth mother. It brings about a chain of events that reveals her family’s secrets and lies. Secrets & Lies comprises an ensemble cast of several of Mike Leigh’s collaborating actors. Lesley Manville plays a minor supporting role as Jenny Ford, a Social Worker. Secrets & Lies was critically acclaimed and received nominations at the Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards, and Golden Globe Awards.

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Lesley Manville in Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Lesley Manville played Lucy Gilbert in Mike Leigh’s musical period drama Topsy-Turvy (1999). A noteworthy behind-the-scenes observation was Leigh had all of the actors do their own singing performances and play their respective musical instruments. The film is set in the Victorian era between 1884 and 1885. It follows the conflict between composer Sir Arthur Sullivan and playwright W. S. Gilbert. Lesley Manville was cast as Lucy “Kitty” Gilbert. The character was the wife of playwright W. S. Gilbert. Topsy-Turvy received nominations at the Academy Awards and British Academy Film Awards. Lesley Manville was nominated for Best British Supporting Actress at the London Film Critics Circle Award.

All or Nothing (2002)

Lesley Manville in All or Nothing (2002)

All or Nothing (2002) bears Mike Leigh’s plot signature about working-class families in London. The drama starred Lesley Manville as Penny, a mother who works as a Safeway store cashier. Manville’s character is the matriarch of one of three families in the movie. Penny’s husband is Phil (Timothy Spall), who has a daughter, Rachel (Alison Garland), and a son, Rory (James Corden). Like many of Mike Leigh’s movies, All or Nothing received mostly favorable reviews from critics. Manville was nominated for Best Actress at the Evening Standard British Film Award and Best British Actress of the Year at the London Film Critics Circle Award.

Vera Drake (2004)

Vera Drake (2004)

In Mike Leigh’s period drama Vera Drake, Lesley Manville plays a minor role as Mrs. Wells. Although not a prominent role, it makes the list as one of her collaborations with Leigh. The movie is set in 1950 London and revolves around a working-class woman, Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton), who performs illegal abortions. Besides winning several British awards, Vera Drake was nominated at the Golden Globe Awards, BAFTAs, and the Academy Awards. True to his nature, Leigh ensured none of the cast knew the movie was about abortions, except for Imelda Staunton. In the scene when Vera Drake is arrested, none of the cast knew the police would barge in. Consequently, the actors playing the police had no idea what to expect from the other cast when they barged in to arrest Staunton’s character.

Another Year (2010)

Lesley Manville in Another Year (2010)

Mike Leigh’s next collaboration with Lesley Manville was in his 2010 comedy-drama Another Year. Leigh wrote the story and was a critical and commercial success, grossing $18.1 million on an $8 million budget. In Another Year, Manville played Mary Smith, a receptionist at a Health Center. The character is also a divorcee, desperate to start a new relationship. Manville plays a supporting character, with Tom Hepple (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri Hepple (Ruth Sheen) as the lead characters. For her performance, Manville received several nominations. One such nomination was Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the BAFTA Award.

Mr. Turner (2014)

Lesley Manville in Mr. Turner (2014)

In Mr. Turner (2014), Lesley Manville portrayed scientist Mary Somerville. So far, it is the last collaboration between Mike Leigh and Manville. Mr. Turner is a biographical drama about the life of J. M. W. Turner. The movie was nominated at the 87th Academy Awards and British Academy Film Awards. Manville’s character is a friend of the movie’s protagonist. As always, Manville delivers a believable portrayal of the character.

Phantom Thread (2018)

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread (2018)

Besides her collaborations with Mike Leigh, Lesley Manville has also starred in several other movies by other directors. In 2018, she played Cyril Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s historical drama Phantom Thread. Manville’s character is a sister to Daniel Day-Lewis‘ Reynolds Woodcock character. For her performance, Manville was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the BAFTAs.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2023)

Lesley Manville in Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris 2023

Lesley Manville played the lead role of Ada Harris in Anthony Fabian‘s historical comedy-drama Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2023). Reviews have been favorable, with the movie becoming a box office hit, grossing $31.4 million on a $9–13 million budget. Lesley Manville’s performance received praise from critics and was nominated for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globe Award.

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