Greatest British Actors of All Time

Posted on 21 Nov 00:00


Undoubtedly English film industry has contributed to the movie industry worldwide with its great cinematography, stories, and most importantly acting skills. The following are some of the greatest British actors of all time.

1)  Laurence Olivier (May 22 1907 – July ll,1989)

The career of Laurence Olivier is studded with achievements as he has accomplished everything an actor can think of. He was born in 1907 in Dorking, Surrey and was the youngest among three children. He went to drama school in London and became a prominent actor. Laurence acted in movies, television series, stage plays and honed his directing skills as well. In the mid-20th century, he dominated the British stage. He received critical acclaim from a stage play, Private Lives. It was considered to be his decade as he played a celebrated role in Romeo and Juliet and became an established actor. Apart from acting he ran a non-profit theater, Old-Vic,which became a much respected company where he acted some of his iconic roles in Shakespeare's Richard III and Sophocles's Oedipus. Before making his name in the film industry he acquired a firm position in the professional theater in such roles as The Entertainer, Othello (1965), and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1970). He received many awards during and after is lifetime; Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards, Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and the National Theater’s largest auditorium is named after him. Also, he is remembered with the Laurence Olivier Awards conducted annually. His personal life was tumultuous, he married three times, Jill Esmond (1930-1940), Vivian Leigh (1940-1960), who is known for her role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the wind, and Joan Plowright (1961- until death) he died on 11th July 1989.

2)  Anthony Hopkins (31 December 1937)

On the list of greatest British actors of all time there is Sir Anthony Hopkins. His career is filled with achievements and successes, and today, he is still producing successfully active. He was born on the New Year Eve of 1937, and attended the Music & Drama college from where he graduated. He also received training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Laurence Olivier spotted Anthony and invited him to join Royal National Theatre at which he acted King Lear and his final stage play was M. Butterfly in 1989. He was more drawn to movies. He became famous after his role in 'The Lion in Winter', but the highlight of his career is 'The Silence of the Lambs' in which he played Hannibal Lecter and received the Academy Award for the Best Actor. Throughout his profession, he was recognized and praised highly by the critics as he received BAFTA awards, Emmys, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to the arts. His recent performances include the performances in Thor series, a TV film The Dresser which he declared the highlight of his life and another TV series Westworld.

3)  Ian McKellen (25 May 1939)

Ian McKellen is a British cultural icon. He was born on 25th May 1939 in Burnley, Lancashire. From the early stage of his life, he was determined to be an actor, acting diverse roles ranging from classical Shakespeare plays to fantasy and science-fiction. His professional career started at the Belgrade Theatre in 1961 where he played leading roles in Shakespeare's Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II. He won every major theatrical award in the UK. Ian McKellen received critical acclaim for almost all of his performances and became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Great Britain along with the knighthood in 1991 for his performances and contribution to arts. He received nominations at the Academy Awards, BAFTA and Emmys multiple times, and won Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, Saturn Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and Critics' Choice Awards. His recent memorable acting contributions are as a Magneto in X-men movies, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series. He has is openly gay, and continues to be a champion for LGBT social movements.

4)  Maggie Smith (28 December 1934)

Maggie Smith is one of the most-established, recognized, and versatile actresses Britain has produced. She was born in Ilford, Essex on 28th December 1934, and at the early age of 16, she started studying acting at the Oxford Playhouse. Her career includes theater, television and movies for over 68 years as she appeared in more than 60 movies. She made her stage debut in 'New Faces of '56' and continued her acting career from that time on. She received six Best Actress Evening Standard Awards and Tony Awards. Sje won critical acclaim  for her role in the movie 'Nowhere To Go' (1958). She has won several Academy Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globe Awards and Emmy Awards. Furthermore, she is one of the few actresses to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting. She has giving many performances, but her most recognized ones are for Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series, Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. She was made a Dame by the Queen and a Companion of Honor.

5)  Daniel Day-Lewis (29 April 1957)

Few individuals have made their name in a short period and Daniel Day-Lewis is one of them. He was born in Kensington, London in 1957 although he was born to artist parents his devotion and commitment allowed him to achieve success in his short career. He is one of the most respected and hailed actors of his time. He has won numerous awards including the Academy Awards, BAFTA, and Golden Globe Awards. Lewis is considered to be the choosiest and most selective actor when it comes to the roles. He is purely a method actor with diversification. He appeared in the role of Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet' and Flute in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. The film 'My Left Foot' gained him major recognition and praise. He retired in 1997 for three-years. Before his final goodbye to the industry in 2017 he acted in 6 movies; 'Phantom Thread' was his last. For his contribution to the drama, he has received knighthood in 2014.

6)  Michael Caine (14 March 1933)

Michael Caine is one of the two actors to be nominated for an acting Academy Award in five different decades, he is a British icon. In his over 60 year career, he has acted in more than 130 movies, and is best known for his cockney accent. He was born in 1933 in London in a middle-class family with no acting roots. He has won every award that is offered in cinema including Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe award. His role in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) rebooted his career, and he then acted in Christopher Nolan’s iconic movies; The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014). Caine’s seven movies are featured in the 100 greatest British movies of the 20th century and for his services to the industry, he receieved knighthood, and a BAFTA fellowship.

7)  Ben Kingsley (December 31, 1943)

Ben Kingsley is an English actor who may not have performed in a large number of movies but his few performances made great impact with the critics and audiences. He was born in Snainton, North Riding of Yorkshire in 1943, and in his career of over 50 years has contributed excellent movies to the industry and won a Grammy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA Award, and Academy Award. His major roles are; Mohandas Gandhi (Gandhi 1982), Shutter Island (2010), The Dictator (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2013). He has been recognized with a Knight Bachelor, Britannia Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


English actors are known for their method acting and stronghold over performances, and the above mentioned actors have proven that. Indeed a movie is dependent on the performances of actors and these English actors are great in what they do.

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