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Macdonald, Kelly (1976-)


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Although nominally part of 'the Scottish invasion' that took place in the wake of Trainspotting (d. Danny Boyle, 1996), Kelly Macdonald's unique blend of knowing winsomeness has lent itself to a distinguished range of films. She was born on the 23rd February 1976 in Glasgow, and despite no formal training, landed the iconic role of Diane, Trainspotting's underage seductress, via an open casting call. Proving the same year that her excellent performance was no one-off, she was convincingly damaged as a young prostitute in the gritty drama Stella Does Tricks (d. Coky Giedroyc, 1996). She soon made her Hollywood debut in the underrated, barely seen Balzac adaptation Cousin Bette (UK/US, d. Des McAnuff, 1998), which saw her playing against her natural charisma and vitality.

She suffered an ingeniously horrible death as a lady-in-waiting in Elizabeth (d. Shekhar Kapur, 1998), but a more avant-garde collaboration with the maverick director Gregg Araki in Splendor (UK/US, 1999) was less successful. Though highly enjoyable, the coming-of-age saga My Life So Far (UK/US, d. Hugh Hudson, 1999) and the Welsh bingo comedy House! (d. Julian Kemp, 2000) were neglected by audiences. However, a strong role in the schizophrenia drama Some Voices (d. Simon Cellan Jones, 2000) showed her range and versatility. She also effectively played the lead role in Robert Altman's star-studded Gosford Park (UK/US/Germany/Italy), as Maggie Smith's maid, through whose eyes the action unfolds.

As the young investigative reporter out of her depth, her character in the acclaimed drama series State of Play (BBC, 2003) was slightly closer to cliché than some of the other parts, , but she was charming and likeable nonetheless. She was fun in the Irish ensemble crime comedy Intermission (Ireland/UK, d. John Crowley, 2003), although, as with House!, her Scottish roots seemed to lead to all-purpose Celtic casting. She had small cameos within Finding Neverland (UK/US, d. Marc Forster, 2004), as Peter Pan, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (US/UK, d. Garth Jennings, 2005), followed by the title role of Richard Curtis' love story-cum-G8 polemic The Girl in The Café (BBC, 2005). Although her role of an ex-jailbird political idealist occasionally felt so didactic as to be unconvincing, the tenderness of her gradually evolving romance with Bill Nighy was testament to her unforced, natural charm. As Steve Coogan's girlfriend, she was a welcome human centre to the madness of Michael Winterbottom's A Cock and Bull Story (2005), and was pleasant if underused as the below-stairs love interest of Colin Firth in Nanny McPhee (US/UK/France, d. Kirk Jones, 2005). She is married to Dougie Payne, the bassist in the band Travis.

Alexander Larman

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Selected credits

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 Stella Does Tricks (1996)Stella Does Tricks (1996)

Uncompromising drama starring Kelly Macdonald as a teenage prostitute

Thumbnail image of Trainspotting (1996)Trainspotting (1996)

Film about Edinburgh junkies that became a cultural phenomenon

Thumbnail image of State of Play (2003)State of Play (2003)

Acclaimed political thriller for the New Labour era

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Trainspotting: DianeTrainspotting: Diane

Wise beyond her years, especially when it comes to men

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