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Press, Natalie (1980-)


Main image of Press, Natalie (1980-)

Pale and willowy with striking red-blonde hair, Natalie Press has been compared to a young Sissy Spacek or Tilda Swinton, though she has defied her ethereal, elfin looks by specialising in provocative roles in dark-hued British films.

Born in London on 15 August 1980, Press studied art before coming to attention as an actress playing needy, irresponsible young mothers in two acclaimed shorts: Andrea Arnold's Oscar-winning Wasp (2003) and Mercy (d. Candida Scott-Knight, 2004).

Soon afterwards her major breakthrough came with a feature-length leading role in My Summer of Love (d. Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004), as a spirited working-class tomboy who embarks on an overheated, passionate relationship with a rich and worldly girl (Emily Blunt). The success of the film launched both actresses' careers, even though Press was later to take much the more unconventional route.

From a liberal, middle-class Jewish family, Press drew on some elements of her background to portray an Orthodox woman caught up in an intense affair with her brother in the severe but well-received Song of Songs (d. Josh Appignanesi, 2005). In the same year she appeared in Andrew Davies' epic, award-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House (BBC, 2005).

A variety of supporting turns followed. Press worked again with Arnold in the director's feature debut, the tough surveillance/ revenge drama Red Road (2006). She played a tragic young orphan in Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching (2007), an idiosyncratic murder mystery inspired by the Rembrandt painting Night Watch, and a Russian cook in the World War Two prisoner-of-war story In Tranzit (d. Tom Roberts, 2008).

Press took the 'girlfriend/wife' role in two gritty films based on true stories: Cass, about a Jamaican man in Britain struggling to escape a life of racism and violence (d. Jon S Baird, 2008) and Fifty Dead Men Walking (d. Kari Skogland, 2008), the story of an IRA supergrass.

Press finally secured another leading part in a poorly reviewed suspense thriller, Knife Edge (d. Anthony Hickox, 2008). However, she landed a BAFTA Best Actress nomination for Five Daughters (2010), a highly-praised BBC serial exploring the last days of five women murdered by the Ipswich killer Steve Wright.

In Island (d. Elizabeth Mitchell/Brek Taylor, 2011), Press was a former tearaway who travels to a remote Hebridean island seeking revenge on the mother who abandoned her. She played a member of the jury at the trial of a man accused of a triple murder in ITV's five-part The Jury II (2011).

Sheila Johnston

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Thumbnail image of Song of Songs (2005)Song of Songs (2005)

Psychological drama about two siblings' conflicting attitudes to their faith

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