British Icon of the Week: Tilda Swinton, the Brilliant Actress Who's Truly Like No Other
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The inimitable Tilda Swinton turns 60 Thursday, so we’re seizing the opportunity to make her our British Icon of the Week. Since she broke through in the mid-’80s, the Scottish actress has become known for her unique and sometimes unrecognizable performances, so here’s a reminder of 10 – but by no means all – of her career highlights.
1. Edward II (1991)
Swinton's early career was defined by the films she made with experimental English director Derek Jarman, who died in 1994. To this day, she remains a loyal protector of his legacy. In Jarman's adaptation of an historical play by Christopher Marlowe, she shines as the spurned queen whose husband King Edward II (Steven Waddington) is being persecuted for homosexuality.
2. Orlando (1992)
It’s almost become a cliché to describe Swinton as “androgynous” and “otherwordly,” but this early role definitely leans into these aspects of her persona. In director Sally Potter’s creative adaptation of a classic Virginia Woolf novel, Swinton is perfectly cast as the title character, who morphs from male to female partway through the movie and barely seems to age. It’s a truly transcendent performance.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Though she's most associated with indie movies, Swinton isn't averse to taking on a blockbuster job; in 2015, she gave a winning performance as the ethereal Ancient One in Marvel's Doctor Strange. Just over a decade earlier, she brought a chilly charisma to the iconic role of the White Witch in this lavish C. S. Lewis adaptation.
4. Michael Clayton (2007)
Swinton won an Oscar and a BAFTA for her performance in George Clooney's supremely tense legal thriller. And rightly so: she's terrific as a ruthless lawyer who's so haunted by the sacrifices she's made to climb the corporate ladder that at one point, she vomits after a video conference. It’s a brilliant, grimly believable character study.
5. I Am Love (2009)
In the second of her four collaborations with director Luca Guadagnino, Swinton shines as the wife of a wealthy industrialist who gives up her privileged lifestyle after falling for a chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini). It's a moving and enigmatic performance made all the more impressive by the fact that Swinton delivers her dialogue in Russian-accented Italian.
6. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Swinton delivers a harrowing performance in director Lynne Ramsay's film adaptation of Lionel Shriver's award-winning novel. She plays Eva Khatchadourian, a former travel writer struggling to process the fact that the son she never bonded with, Kevin (Ezra Miller), has committed a truly atrocious crime. It's a difficult and visceral watch.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2004)
Swinton is swathed in prosthetics to play Madame D, the elderly secret owner of Wes Anderson's typically whimsical hotel. She took on this small but very memorable role after a prior commitment forced Dame Angela Lansbury to pull out, and makes Madame D both twinkly and convincingly geriatric.
8. Trainwreck (2015)
When Amy Schumer's salty rom-com first came out, many people didn't realize it was Swinton playing brassy magazine editor Dianna, a woman who gives the thumbs up to wildly inappropriate feature ideas like: "Are you gay, or is she just boring?" It's one of the actress's lighter roles, but also among her most transformative.
9. Okja (2017)
Director Bong Joon-ho's movie about a genetically modified super-pig is unexpectedly touching, but Swinton provides a necessary element of danger. She's in tremendous form as Lucy Mirando, the eccentric CEO of a food tech company who only wants to exploit and profit from the sweet-natured porker.
10. Suspiria (2018)
Swinton actually plays three roles in Guadagnino’s super-freaky remake of a cult Italian horror movie. She's suitably sinister as witchy choreographer Madame Blanc, ages up to play an elderly ballet academy boss; and portrays a male psychologist drawn into the academy-coven. It all adds up to peak Swinton.
Have we missed out one of your favorite Tilda Swinton performances?