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Tony Grist

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Great British Actresses [Jul. 19th, 2005|09:23 am]
Tony Grist
The ten greatest British actresses (according to viewers of Channel 5) are, in descending order:

10. Vanessa Redgrave
9. Deborah Kerr
8. Peggy Ashcroft
7. Elizabeth Taylor
6. Vivien Leigh
5. Maggie Smith
4. Helen Mirren
3. Audrey Hepburn
2. Julie Walters
1. Judy Dench.

Well, we all knew it was going to be Judy Dench at #1. Otherwise the list feels a bit scrappy. Is Julie Walters- a fine character actress- really that good? Isn't Liz Taylor a film star rather than an actor? And Edith Evans and Sybil Thorndike and Wendy Hiller and all the other theatrical grande dames of my youth seem to have been forgotten- largely, I suppose, because they did very little on film.

It is harder for a woman to achieve acting greatness. The big roles are few and far between. Where Anthony Hopkins (Channel 5's greatest British actor) has gone from one lead to the next, most of these women have had bitty careers. Hepburn all but retired in her 30s, Vanessa Redgrave has been ostracised for her politics (something which never happened to John Wayne) and even Dame Judy- who is never out of work- is mainly celebrated for her cameo performances- and got her Oscar for a role that amounted to 8 minutes of screen-time. Acting is a boy's game. The only area in which male dominance has been slightly eroded is TV- which explains the appearance of Helen Mirren- Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison- at #3.

This was a fun exercise, but its implications have left me feeling angry, frustrated and ashamed.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2005-07-19 04:29 am (UTC)
I adore Dame Judi. I'd have liked Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg or Joanna Lumley to feature, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-07-19 04:53 am (UTC)
I'd have voted for Diana Rigg. I expect the thing that scuppered her- along with a number of other possible contenders- is that she hasn't had any significant movie roles.
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2005-07-19 05:41 am (UTC)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service not significant!?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-07-19 05:45 am (UTC)
Touche. You've got me there.

But there hasn't been much since.
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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2005-07-19 05:15 am (UTC)
Last I checked, Audrey Hepburn wasn't British, but Belgian. Well, she sounded good and I suppose they both begin with B.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-07-19 05:44 am (UTC)
Apparently she had a British father, Belgian mother and grew up in the Netherlands. I think it may be pushing it a bit for us to claim her.
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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2005-07-19 05:50 am (UTC)
Most people would tell you Elizabeth Taylor (who is NOT an actress in my book) is not British. I know she was born there, but she's so very American in style, don't you think?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-07-19 06:22 am (UTC)
I'm inclined to agree.

I've never rated Taylor. I adore Hepburn and am happy to think of her as a Brit (no matter how honorary) but I'm in no hurry to lay claims to Liz.

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From: saskia139
2005-07-19 08:10 am (UTC)
One thing which I admire about British actors generally (of both sexes) is that work is work. Dench, for example, has done television, film, and stage work, all fine stuff, and that seems to be generally the case. On the other hand, I wouldn't consider Taylor and Hepburn "British actresses", despite their birth, because they became part of Hollywood culture and confined their work to the big screen.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-07-19 08:57 am (UTC)
That's a good point.

it was a surprise to me that anyone was claiming Hepburn as British. If anyone was a citizen of the world, then she was.

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