At first, it seemed like a fluke. No actor from “overseas” was going to displace the American thesp as the leading cinematic staple in films. After all, we had Bogart and Cagney, Nicholson and Newman. But slowly, over time, the English have retaken their colonial territory, if only in the Cineplex sense. It began back when a certain Sir Lawrence introduced the Bard and his bad boy, Hamlet, to unsuspecting ‘40s audiences. Throughout the rest of the century, the UK produced one amazing male actor after another (though the ladies found their fortunes earlier—more on that next time). By the time the ‘80s rolled around, there was even a bit of a backlash among American performers, arguing that, every year it seemed, another English newcomer was walking away with the praise (and prizes).
In 2013, it’s now a glorified given that, when you want true Method quality and international savvy, you go with a guy from Blighty. Even in minor movies like Frankie Go Boom (new to DVD and Blu-ray from Universal), newcomers like Chris O’Dowd and Charlie Hunnam are proving that UK names mean quality—or the suggestion of same. With that in mind, here is our list of the 10 Greatest British (and we use that term very lightly, not literally) Actors Working Today. Sure, some of them may have gotten their start far away from Her Majesty, but as with the Queen herself, they’ve proved durable and determined, all in the name of English pride and performance. Naturally, we may have missed your favorite, so let us know what you think. With a subject as vast as this, someone significant is bound to fall through the compilation cracks.
Let’s start with an obvious choice at number ten…
Though he’s been spending more time in Middle Earth and in X-Men garb than he has doing other, less commercial work, what Sir Ian has offered to the cinematic world, performance wise, is without peer. He is that perfect combination of aging nobility and naughty schoolboy that manages to overcome even the most mediocre material. While he spent most of his early years on the British stage, occasionally taking minor roles in equally forgettable films, his 40s saw a career crossroads, his work in commercial properties like The Last Action Hero and Six Degrees of Separation leading to his current trek through Tolkien territory. The very definition of class.
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