Underrated actresses

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.

29 thoughts on “Underrated actresses

  1. I know and have noticed Thora Birch but must catch up on some of the others (I think the last few years since I started publishing books and trying to sell them I have watched very little TV and far less cinema than I’d like). There are some secondary actors and actresses that always improve anything they are on when they don’t steal the whole show, but never seem to make it to the top, although some less pretty people do manage sometimes to come to attention. Fingers crossed for all of them!


  2. This is a great list of truly under-appreciated Actresses…Jennifer Tilly’s sister Meg is well-known for her role in “The Big Chill”, but she dropped out of acting for fifteen years…it’s a tough business to work in, and these women have all done great work – thanks for shining the light back on them!


  3. Tamzin Outhwaite! Honestly!! I seen her in something after she’d left eastenders and thought the acting was good. Then I seen her in a couple of other things and one of them totally blew me away. I can’t remember what it was but I would never have guessed it was the same person. Apparently working on a soap is good money but restrictive. She made a big impression as an actress in this particular TV series/Film. I was really impressed.


    1. She played the military policewoman in Red Cap, which I enjoyed a lot, and then she was in the series ‘The Fixer’, which I also watched. She’s pretty good, but has not had really standout parts to make a name for herself.
      Cheers mate, Pete.


      1. I think the thing she really stood out in was a TV film where she was the mother of a kid that was getting into trouble. My brain is like a sieve when it comes to shows & films… Its a shame it didn’t get to a wider audience. I’m rarely taken by acting and this part for me was outstanding.


  4. Interesting post Pete, I had to google them all to see if I recognised anyone. The only one I did recognise is Mclure strangely as I’ve never seen anything she’s in! Thora Birch is apparently in a series called Colony which is really good but I can’t remember her in it.
    I assume you have not seen Game of Thrones because it’s on Sky and not through any other reason, if you get the chance to get it on dvd please do, never mind the hype and silly fandom, the acting in it is just superb and everyone in the cast has raised their game (!) to be in it, Kate Dickie included. I love it when you forget actors are acting and you get immersed in the character they play, and that is why it’s a compelling series.


    1. I am pleased that you looked them up, FR. As for McClure, did you never watch ‘This Is England’, ‘Line Of Duty’, or the recent BBC drama ‘The Secret Agent’? If not, then you missed not only her, but some wonderful TV.
      You are correct that I do not watch G.O.T. only because I don’t have Sky. Otherwise, I have no doubt I would enjoy it a great deal. The same applies to ‘Colony’. If you ever get the chance to see ‘Ghost World’, I am sure that you would appreciate Birch in that film.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are limited to 1 1/2-2 hr TV at night Pete as our hobbies take up most of the evenings, đŸ™‚ so tend to be quite picky about series so have not seen the ones you refer to. We have a movie night at weekends so one a week is about all we manage and there are just so many!!


  5. Jennifer Tilly’s rendition of The Candy Man in The Fabulous Baker Boys was fabulous. It’s a measure of her talent that whenever I’ve watched that film, I always wish she’d had more than just two short scenes!


  6. I saw “Cold Mountain” when it first hit theaters, and vaguely recollect Eileen Atkins. With one exception, I am totally unfamiliar with the others. The one exception is Jennifer Tilly. I have “Embrace of the Vampire” on DVD (one of those guilty pleasures!), and I’ve seen “Bound” at least once.

    You mentioned Scarlett Johansson. I happened to watch some of her French and American interviews last night. She’s quite delightful. There are a number of films I’d like to have on DVD in which she has starred (“Lucy,” for one). I borrowed “Under the Skin” from the library last year, as well as “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” I wasn’t as thrilled with these films as were the critics, but they were interesting nonetheless. I guess she was introduced to me by way of “Eight Legged Freaks,” which I have on DVD, and I’ve caught her in a couple of other films (e.g., “Marvel’s The Avengers).


    1. Like the critics, I was thrilled by both ‘Pearl Earring’ (which I can watch over and over) and ‘Under The Skin’, where I thought Scarlett was amazing. In ‘Cold Mountain’, Eileen Atkins is The Goat Lady. I would have been most surprised if you had heard of the other British actresses, but I did think you might know Thora Birch.
      Thanks, David.
      Best wishes, Pete.


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