British Icon of the Week: Brenda Blethyn, the Down-to-Earth Actress Who Delights Us in 'Vera'
With the exciting news that Brenda Blethyn has competed season 11 of Vera, and is weighing a season 12, we've decided to make this accomplished and down-to-earth actress our British Icon of the Week. Here are just 10 of the things we admire and appreciate about the 75-year-old performer.
1. She starred in 1996's Secrets & Lies, one of the best British films of the '90s.
In this shattering family drama from director Mike Leigh, Blethyn plays Cynthia, a brittle working-class white woman whose life is transformed when she reconnects with Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the Black daughter she gave up for adoption after childbirth. Both Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste deservedly earned Oscar nominations for their performances as two very different women – Hortense is now a successful middle-class optometrist, putting her in a markedly social bracket from Cynthia. Just prepare to get very emotionally invested.
2. She gave a charming acceptance speech when she won a Golden Globe for the role.
Blethyn rounds off her lovely list of "thank you"s by doing a playful impression of her character from the movie: "Thank you sweeed-hard!"
3. She earned another Oscar nomination for her performance in 1998's acclaimed dramedy Little Voice.
Blethyn plays Mari Hoff, the domineering mother of LV (Jane Horrocks), a timid young woman who has a remarkable talent for mimicking the singing voices of divas like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. Mari's interest in her daughter increases when LV attracts the attention of sketchy showbiz manager Ray Say (Michael Caine), whom Mari becomes romantically involved with. Blethyn's brilliance here lies in showing, subtly, that Mari's casual cruelty towards her daughter ultimately stems from her own insecurities.
4. She smashed her comedic role in Joe Wright's 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie.
Blethyn supplies light relief as Mrs. Bennet, the well-meaning but slightly skittish and not terribly subtle mother of Keira Knightley's more self-assured and thoughtful Elizabeth Bennet. She was duly rewarded with a BAFTA Film Award nomination for her performance.
5. She built her successful acting career after a relatively late start.
Blethyn worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper before pursuing her passion by studying at the Guildford School of Acting. She made her professional acting debut at age 27 with a series of performances at London's National Theatre. Recalling what would happen whenever her parents would come to see her perform, Blethyn told The Guardian: "I always said, 'I don't want to know where they're sitting' – because you gravitate to that spot. But whenever I'd walk on stage, I would hear from somewhere, 'There she is. That's her. The one that's talking now.' It was useless. I'd always know in the end."
6. She hasn't let success go to her head.
"I never dreamed I'd be an actor, it didn't enter my head. I didn’t know any actors," she told The Scotsman in 2019. "But it's just how you get ambushed in life. These things come along and you're asked to help out, you do it as a good turn, and look what happened."
7. She has no intention of retiring any time soon.
"My parents worked until their dying days, and I fully expect to be doing the same," Blethyn told Good Housekeeping earlier this year. "Mum had about six jobs to put food on the table and Dad spent the latter part of his life working in a ladies’ dress shop as a handyman. They instilled that work ethic in me; if you want to earn some money, you've got to work for it. I enjoy being busy, too, so I'll always find something to do, even if it's painting a wall!"
8. She clearly loves playing DCI Vera Stanhope.
In this thoroughly lovely interview for BritBox, Vera's U.S. home, Blethyn speaks enthusiastically about playing such a strong female lead, getting to film in the beautiful Northumberland region of northern England, and working with a loyal local crew on each new season. She also notes that tourism in this once-deprived part of the U.K. has increased by 25% since the series began, which is definitely something to be proud of.
9. But initially, she was kind of taken aback to be offered Vera's title role.
"I wouldn't have thought I would spring to mind for the role of a hard-hitting detective with a brilliant mind," she told The Guardian self-deprecatingly. Explaining that she then decided to read Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope books to find out more about the character, Blethyn added: "I was halfway through the first one before I got to any mention of this woman Vera, so I thought, 'I see, it's just a bit part. OK, that's all right.' And then it got to the part where the doors of the church banged open and in walked this great lummox of a woman, like a bag lady, and I asked myself, 'Well, why have they thought of me?' I was indignant. But I read on and loved the character, and could see that, as well as the seriousness and gravitas of this woman, there was the possibility of humor."
10. And finally, she has an adorable and rather mischievous dog.
Blethyn's cockapoo Jack once disrupted her interview on U.K. daytime show This Morning... with hilarious results, as you'll see in the clip below.
Do you have a favorite Brenda Blethyn performance that we haven’t mentioned here?