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Duff, Anne-Marie (1970-)


Main image of Duff, Anne-Marie (1970-)

Onscreen fame came relatively late to Anne-Marie Duff. She was acting professionally on stage from her early twenties, often in prestigious roles: Wendy in Peter Pan, Natasha in War and Peace, Cordelia in King Lear, Nora in A Doll's House, the title role in Saint Joan. But she was in her mid-30s before two TV drama series raised her profile. In the first two seasons of Paul Abbott's Shameless (Channel 4 2004-05) she played Fiona, eldest daughter of the disreputable Manchester council-estate clan, who throws over a solid boyfriend for car-thief Steve, played by James McAvoy. (Duff and McAvoy married in 2006.) By way of total contrast, in 2005 she played Queen Elizabeth I in Paula Milne's four-part series The Virgin Queen (BBC).

She was born in Chiswick to Irish parents, and with their encouragement joined a local youth theatre to overcome shyness. She studied at Central St Martin's College Drama Centre, and after graduating soon began to find stage work, first touring in rep then for three years at the National Theatre. Howard Davies, who directed her twice at the National, pays tribute to her selflessness and dedication: "She throws herself into the part, almost as if she is bruising herself against it" - a view echoed by Gary Hynes, who directed her at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: "She's not careful of herself." With her pensive, elfin looks, she has the ability to appear drab and plain one moment, startlingly attractive the next.

Her first major film role came in Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters (UK/Eire, 2003) as Margaret, an Irish teenage rape victim interned in a sadistic Catholic-run 'laundry' - a searing performance, movingly channelling the girl's shame, bewilderment and growing anger. She's since appeared mainly in small independent productions: another Irish role as the slow-witted hero's love-interest in Garage (Eire/UK, d. Lenny Abrahamson, 2007); distractedly running an 80s seaside old folks' home in Is Anybody There? (UK/US, d. John Crowley, 2008), with Michael Caine as an inmate; Tolstoy's daughter in The Last Station (Germany/Russia, 2009); and as John Lennon's flighty mother in Nowhere Boy (d. Sam Taylor-Wood, 2009) intimating darker undertones to her character's girlish high spirits. She was Margot Fonteyn in Margot (BBC, tx. 30/11/2009) before taking time off to have a baby.

Philip Kemp

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