I know that it is correct to refer to actresses as ‘female actors’ these days, or just the plain ‘actor’, with no reference to gender. However, for the purposes of this post, you will have to forgive my use of the term. Or not, it is entirely up to you. Continuing the short series of actors that I consider to be either overrated, or underrated, I offer this selection. Some are very well known, others less so. But even the familiar names and faces perhaps do not receive the acclaim that they so richly deserve.
Outside of the UK, Eileen Atkins has received Tony awards, and Emmy awards. In this country, she was made a Dame, and received the CBE, as well as winning numerous awards and nominations for her theatre and television work. So why is she on my list, as underrated? There are many reasons. For one thing, very few film fans would recognise her face, or easily recall her name. In the modern era, she has been overshadowed by the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, and Emma Thompson. Younger actresses like Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham-Carter are far better known, and more highly praised. Yet Dame Eileen has other talents, besides her excellent acting pedigree. Along with Jean Marsh, she created and also wrote the scripts for the TV series ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, one of the most popular dramas to ever appear on TV. Her film career has run from 1966 until the present day, and you may well recall her in ‘Gosford Park’, ‘Cold Mountain’, ‘Major Barbara’, or ‘Robin Hood’. Despite her talents, she is rarely offered more than a character part or supporting role, which makes me sad. The next time you are thinking about British actresses, spare her a thought.
Scottish actress Kate Dickie has more recently come to my notice. Her wonderful performance in Red Road (2006) rightly earned her awards. After this, she got the part of Lysa Arryn in the huge hit TV show ‘Game of Thrones’, which I have never seen, and had parts in ‘Prometheus’, and the recent British film, ‘The Witch.’ But nobody is talking about her, and she is relatively unknown outside of Scotland, or to die-hard fans of Game of Thrones. Perhaps it is because she is not classically ‘attractive’, or that she is now 45 years old, I don’t really know. She deserves more attention, better roles, more leading parts. Casting directors please take note. She is very good. Very good indeed.
Lesley Sharp is another actress who might be described as ‘not beautiful’. That shouldn’t matter of course, but it does, like it or not. Her long career in British film and TV drama has led to her appearing in some popular series here, and her face is familiar, if not her name. You might have seen her in ‘From Hell’, with Johnny Depp. But she wasn’t the star, and you may not have known her name. I first noticed her in her debut film, the touching and amusing ‘Rita, Sue, and Bob Too’ where she played the acid-tongued wife, Michelle. Since then, I have followed her career with interest, finding that she always brings something to any part she is offered. She was in the Mike Leigh film, ‘Naked’, and Poliakoff’s ‘Close My Eyes’ too. However, she has rarely had a starring role, even on TV, and despite nominations, has won few awards. Check out her work, you won’t be disappointed.
Jennifer Tilly is a Canadian/American actress. (Not to be confused with her acting sister, Meg Tilly)
She has had a long career in film and television, since starting out in 1983. Many of her films have been frankly forgettable, but others are better known. If you have seen ‘Bullets Over Broadway’, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’, or ‘Bride of Chucky’, then you have seen her. Perhaps you were not aware of it, but you did. Her distinctive voice has featured in films too, such as ‘Stuart Little’, and ‘Monsters Inc.’ Perhaps her most memorable performance was as Violet, the gangster’s moll in ‘Bound’. In that film, she took what could been a minor part, and turned it into the lead. She has worked on Broadway as well, but has sadly never had the serious breakthrough role she deserved. Since 2005, she has also become a professional poker player, and appears on television playing in large tournaments. Time she put away the cards, and someone gave her the part that makes her a household name.
Thora Birch was a child star in America. I didn’t know that much about her until she showed up in ‘American Beauty’, when she was seventeen. In 2001, I saw the wonderful Indie film, ‘Ghost World’. Birch played opposite Steve Buscemi and the lovely Scarlett Johansson, and stole the film away from both of them with a truly memorable performance. You might also recall her troubled teenager in the 1999 film, ‘The Hole’. But you probably remember that Keira Knightley was in it, and didn’t know who Thora Birch was. Or maybe you did? She took a long break from acting, and many of her later films went straight-to-video, or were only shown on TV. But she is in a new thriller to be released in 2017. Let’s hope that this proves to be the breakthrough she deserves.
Vicky McClure is one of the best things to happen to British acting in decades. She has received awards for standout TV roles, and her work with Shane Meadows on some of his films has been rightly praised too. After working on Meadows’ films ‘A Room For Romeo Brass’, and ‘This Is England’, she went on to act in many excellent TV dramas, eventually winning a BAFTA for her part as a police officer in the wonderful BBC series, ‘Line Of Duty’. So why is she also on this list of underrated actresses? (I hear you ask) Because she should be the star. She should have parts written just for her, and get the chance to flex her acting muscles across the world, and not just in her home country. She could be the female James Bond, or the next Judi Dench. At the age of 33, she has a long life ahead of her, and is without doubt one of the finest actresses of her generation. She just needs the recognition, and the chance to show her talent.
There you have six examples of female actors that I consider to be underrated, for different reasons. If you have never heard of them, then I hope to get you interested enough to seek out their work. If you don’t agree, or have your own suggestions, (yes you, Jimmy…) then let me know in the comments.