10 Roles That Made Us Love Lesley Manville: From 'Mum' to 'Phantom Thread'
In casting news that delighted the internet, Lesley Manville has just joined The Crown as Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II's younger sister, whom she'll portray in the show's fifth and final season. This Royal role caps off a real purple patch for the 64-year-old actress, who's well on her way to becoming a British national treasure. She's also known as an award-winning stage actress, but here's a reminder of Manville's best movie and TV roles.
1. Secrets & Lies (1996)
Manville is known for working with revered British movie director Mike Leigh, and she has a small but memorable role in his Oscar-nominated adoption drama. She plays Jenny, an overloaded social worker who helps Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a middle-class Black woman, to find her white working-class birth mother Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn). Jenny isn't on screen for long, but Manville gets her manner – stressed, but perceptive and filled with empathy – absolutely spot-on.
2. Topsy-Turvy (1999)
Manville has a larger supporting role in Leigh's musical movie about Gilbert and Sullivan, the creative partnership behind famous comic operas such as H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. She plays Kitty Gilbert, wife of dramatist W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), who helps to inspire one of the duo's great works: The Mikado. Though Kitty seems pompous and superficial, in a brilliant climactic scene, Manville reveals how her flighty exterior actually serves as a mask for her inner pain.
3. All or Nothing (2002)
In another acclaimed Mike Leigh movie, Manville co-stars opposite Timothy Spall and a young James Corden. She plays Penny, an anxious working-class woman who has to provide for her catatonic husband (Spall) and unappreciative kids (Corden and Alison Garland). It's a typically nuanced and true-to-life Manville performance, which won her a Best Actress prize from the London Film Critics' Circle.
4. Cranford (2007)
Broadcast on PBS in the U.S., this BBC period drama series has a stellar cast led by Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, and Imelda Staunton. Manville more than holds her own as Mrs. Rose, a recently widowed woman who becomes a loyal housekeeper for Dr Morgan (John Bowe), the esteemed town surgeon.
5. Another Year (2010)
In this Mike Leigh comedy-drama movie, Manville plays Mary, the depressed and somewhat desperate friend of a contented married couple (Broadbent and Ruth Sheen). It's not exactly a sympathetic role – Mary drinks too much and tries to seduce the couple's son – but Manville makes her fully rounded and relatable, deservedly earning herself a BAFTA nomination.
6. River (2015)
Created by Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady), this unusual BBC/Netflix crime drama series stars Stellan Skarsgård as John River, a London cop who's haunted by the ghost of his late policing partner. In a BAFTA-nominated performance, Manville co-stars as DCI Chrissie Read, his immediate superior, who makes their difficult working relationship even trickier when she makes a drunken pass at him. Watching Manville and Skarsgård bounce off one another is, as you'd expect, a real pleasure.
7. Phantom Thread (2017)
Manville's searing performance opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in this Paul Thomas Anderson period drama deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination. She plays Cyril Woodcock, sister of Day-Lewis's womanizing fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, who quietly manages his professional life while also wielding an influence on his personal affairs. As Reynolds and his younger lover Alma (Vicky Krieps) become increasingly unhinged, Manville's Cyril simply keeps calm and carries on, becoming a meme queen in the process.
8. Harlots (2017-19)
It's a shame this Hulu period drama hasn't been renewed for a fourth season; it's a colorful, campy, and subtly feminist romp with a terrific ensemble cast. Manville and Samantha Morton have a ball lobbing insults at one another as they play rival madams operating in 18th century London; Manville's Lydia Quigley is the snobbier of the two, and prides herself on running an establishment that welcomes members of the judiciary, nobility, and ruling class. If you've never tried this underrated series, it could make a fun summer binge-watch.
9. Mum (2017-19)
This BBC sitcom which recently completed its third and final season is an understated delight. Manville stars as Cathy Bradshaw, a suburban woman of 59 trying to get on with her life following her husband's death. Cathy has several needy and self-absorbed family members to contend with, which is where the humor comes from, but along the way you'll find yourself moved by her slow-building relationship with Michael (Westworld's Peter Mullan), her late husband's best friend. Manville's affecting performance has rightly won her a couple BAFTA TV Award nominations.
10. Ordinary Love (2020)
Released on Valentine's Day this year, Ordinary Love follows a down-to-earth and insular middle-aged couple (Manville and Liam Neeson) as they process the news that Manville's Joan has breast cancer. It's a beautifully observed, low-key romantic drama that manages to be moving without trying too hard. Manville told Anglophenia that she was attracted to the script's "real ring of authenticity," and she and Neeson give completely believable performances that definitely bring this out.
Have we missed out your favorite Lesley Manville role?