Brenda Blethyn is an esteemed English actor, best known for her roles in films such as ‘Secrets & Lies’ and ‘Little Voice.’ Born and raised in Kent, England, Brenda grew up in a lower-middle-class family. Her parents were regular film-goers and took Brenda with them, causing her to gain an initial interest in cinema. Brenda led a simple lifestyle in her early 20s and worked at an administrative government job. However, she became infatuated with performing arts and joined the ‘Royal National Theatre.’ In the early parts of her stage career, she did some popular plays such as ‘Steaming,’ ‘Mysteries,’ and ‘Benefactors.’ She made her TV debut in 1980, with the TV film titled ‘Grown-Ups.’ She had her first acting breakthrough in 1996, playing the lead role in the film ‘Secrets & Lies.’ This role catapulted her to global fame. She ended up winning a ‘BAFTA’ award, a ‘Golden Globe’ award, and an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for her role. Following this success, she appeared in many successful films, such as ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ ‘Atonement,’ and ‘Clubland.’ She also continued to appear on TV, with series such as ‘War & Peace’ and ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.’
Childhood & Early Life
Brenda Blethyn was born Brenda Anne Bottle, on February 20, 1946, in Ramsgate, Kent, England. She was the youngest of nine children. She was born into a Roman Catholic working-class family, to mechanic William Charles Bottle and Louisa Kathleen.
Her parents lived in extremely poor conditions at Louisa’s maternal home before Brenda was conceived. She was the first child in the family that was born after William and Louisa got married. Her parents were engaged for many years and never married while they gave birth to and raised eight children together.
Before Brenda was born, the family had moved into a small house in Kent. When she was born, many of her elder siblings were adults and had moved out of the house for better opportunities.
Brenda was raised by her cinema-loving parents. They took her to the cinema regularly, as they were fond of watching films. Although she had become infatuated with the world of cinema by then, she had no intentions of pursuing a career in the field. The first thing on her mind was to get rid of the poverty that she had grown up in.
Following her college graduation, she started working as a stenographer at ‘British Rail’ and got married in 1964. Her dead-end job and the burden of running a household was more than enough for her to handle. She got divorced and decided to pursue acting as a profession.
She took acting classes at ‘The Guildford School of Acting’ and started looking for ways to enter the London theatrical circuit.
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In her late 20s, she finally started getting recognition in the London theater circle and paved her way into the ‘Royal National Theatre,’ the ultimate dream for every theater actor. There, she played key roles in plays such as ‘Troilus & Cressida,’ ‘Mysteries,’ and ‘Steaming.’
She received immense critical acclaim for her performance in the play titled ‘Benefactors.’ Her performance helped her earn a nomination for an ‘Olivier Award.’
She started her screen career in 1980, with TV films such as ‘Grown-Ups’ and ‘Bedroom Farce.’ She moved on to doing guest roles in series such as ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Tales of the Unexpected.’
After playing a supporting role in the hit TV miniseries ‘Death of an Expert Witness,’ Brenda had the first major breakthrough of her career with the sitcom ‘Chance in a Million.’ She played the role of ‘Alison Little’ in 18 episodes of the sitcom.
In the mid-1980s, she played a supporting role in the miniseries titled ‘That Uncertain Feeling.’ While her performances were regularly praised, she was yet to earn the success she desired.
Things began changing drastically in the early 1990s. First, she was seen playing a key role in the sitcom titled ‘The Labours of Erica.’ She then appeared in another meaty role, in the miniseries titled ‘All Good Things.’ In 1990, she made her film debut, with a supporting role in the film titled ‘The Witches.’
In 1996, she appeared in the Mike Leigh-directed drama film titled ‘Secrets & Lies.’ The film was a huge box-office and critical success and catapulted Brenda to global fame. The film featured her as ‘Cynthia Rose Purley,’ the lead character. Her performance earned immense accolades.
The film also led its director, Mike Leigh, to win the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the ‘Cannes Film Festival.’ Brenda won a nomination for an ‘Academy Award’ for her role. She also won the ‘BAFTA Award’ and the ‘Cannes Film Festival Award’ for the ‘Best Actress.’
In 1998, she appeared in yet another critically acclaimed film, ‘Little Voice,’ and earned her second nomination for the ‘Academy Award,’ this time for the ‘Best Supporting Actress.’
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In 2000, she achieved another critical and commercial success with the comedy film titled ‘Saving Grace.’ Her performance as ‘Grace Trevethyn’ -earned her many nominations, including one each for the ‘British Independent Film Award’ and the ‘Golden Globe Award.’
With these successes, Brenda was beginning to be regarded as one of the best actors of her generation.
In 2001, she also gained success in her TV career, with her ‘Emmy’-nominated performance in the two part miniseries titled ‘Anne Frank: The Whole Story’ Following this, she won accolades for her roles in the films ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ ‘Clubland,’ and ‘London River.’
More recently, she was seen playing lead roles in critically acclaimed films such as ‘Mary and Martha’ and ‘Two Men in Town.’
Apart from focusing on British and American films and TV series, she also did some French and Italian films, such as ‘London River’ and ‘War & Peace.’
She has also worked as a voice actor for animated films such as ‘The Wild Thornberrys Movie,’ ‘Pooh's Heffalump Movie,’ and ‘Ethel & Ernest.’In 2003, she was appointed an ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) for her contribution to drama.
Family & Personal Life
Brenda Blethyn lived quite an eventful life before she started working as an actor. While she worked at ‘British Rail’ as a stenographer, she met graphic designer Alan James Blethyn. They dated for a while and got married in 1964.
The couple got divorced in 1973, after 9 years of marriage. The end of her marriage was the final push for Brenda to pursue acting.
Before marrying art director Michael Mayhew in 2010, Brenda was engaged to him for about 3 decades.
She does not have any children. She once said that it was a conscious decision and that she had never felt that she was brave enough to raise children.