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Henderson, Shirley (1965-)


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A quirky Scottish actress who has moved between small independent films and epic studio blockbusters with aplomb, Shirley Henderson's career is a lesson in maintaining both artistic integrity and a productive career. She was born on 24th November, 1965, in Kincardine near Fife, an area so remote that it took her family an hour to go to the nearest cinema to see her films.

After a varied apprenticeship including Butlins and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she made her television debut in the Scottish programme Shadow of the Stone (ITV, 1987), opposite Alan Cumming. Her first big-screen appearance was a supporting role in the drama Salt On Our Skin (Germany/Canada/France, 1992), but she first attracted serious attention with her charming performance as Isobel Sutherland, local journalist and partial love interest, in three series of Hamish Macbeth (BBC, 1995-97).

After small but pivotal roles in two of the 1990s' more famous 'Scottish' films, Rob Roy (US, d. Michael Caton-Jones, 1995) and, more authentically, Trainspotting (d. Danny Boyle, 1996), she began a fruitful collaboration with Michael Winterbottom, who cast her as the lonely single mother Debbie in his slice-of-life London drama Wonderland (1999). The same year, she played The Mikado's Yum-Yum in Mike Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan extravaganza Topsy Turvy (1999), as well as Leonora Braham, the insecure actress who originally created the part.

A reunion with Winterbottom in his Thomas Hardy-based western The Claim (UK/France/Canada, 2000) was less successful, and she was given little to do as the perpetually miserable Jude in Bridget Jones' Diary (UK/France, d. Sharon Maguire, 2001). However, she was superb as David Suchet's wayward daughter in the Anthony Trollope adaptation The Way We Live Now (BBC, 2001), a moving representation of normality as Tony Wilson's wife in the otherwise frenetic 24 Hour Party People (d. Winterbottom, 2002), and a tongue-in-cheek 'western' heroine in Shane Meadows' Once Upon A Time In The Midlands (UK/Germany/Netherlands, 2002), which saw her reunited with her Hamish Macbeth co-star Robert Carlyle.

Her spectral Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (US, 2002) might almost have been seen as a wry nod towards her penchant for playing depressed characters, but there has been no shortage of interesting parts over the past few years. She was very funny as the miserably moustachioed Ruby in the Irish comedy-thriller Intermission (Ireland/UK, d. John Crowley, 2003), striking as Spanish princess Catherine of Braganza in Charles II: The Power & The Passion (BBC, 2003) and had slightly more to do in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (UK/France/Germany/Ireland/USA, d. Beeban Kidron, 2004).

She played 'herself' in Winterbottom's wonderful adaptation of Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story (2005), reprised Moaning Myrtle with vigour in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (UK/USA, d. Mike Newell, 2005), and was great fun in the BBC's 're-imagining' of The Taming of the Shrew (2005), turning Katherine into an ambitious female MP. Her appearance in Sofia Coppola's ambitious Marie-Antoinette (US, 2006) promises to maintain her high reputation.

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)Cock and Bull Story, A (2005)

Surprisingly effective adaptation of a supposedly unfilmable novel

Thumbnail image of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Second outing for the fantastically popular boy wizard

Thumbnail image of Speak Like A Child (1998)Speak Like A Child (1998)

The psychological journey of three friends from a children's home

Thumbnail image of Trainspotting (1996)Trainspotting (1996)

Film about Edinburgh junkies that became a cultural phenomenon

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