British Actresses You Should Know: Julie Walters

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British Actresses You Should Know: Julie WaltersJulie Walters as Cynthia Coffin in "Indian Summers" (Credit: Courtesy of (C) New Pictures and Channel 4 for MASTERPIECE in association with All3Media International)
We’re bringing back our continuing series which features British performers with whom we feel you should be acquainted. This time round I’ve chosen to highlight the legendary English actress and comedienne, Julie Walters.

“Whoa there,” you might be saying. “Of course, I know who Julie Walters is.” She’s been nominated for Oscars and she’s won Baftas and a Golden Globe. If you don’t know her, perhaps you should have your Anglophile card revoked!

Many Americans probably recognize her as Mrs. Weasley, the kind but firm mother of seven from the Harry Potter franchise. Fans of Broadway musicals adapted to the big screen may be aware she played Rosie in the film version of Mamma Mia! You may even be familiar with her breakout movie role as the Liverpudlian hairdresser who wants more out of life in Educating Rita.

And very soon (Sunday, September 27 at 9 pm ET, to be exact) we all will be able to see Ms. Walters as prominent English socialite Cynthia Coffin in the ten-part PBS Masterpiece series Indian Summers. This saga chronicles the demise of the British Empire from both Indian and English perspectives and apparently Cynthia isn’t one to let anyone get in the way of her affluent lifestyle, not even a revolution for Indian independence.

So all that being said, you might think no introduction of this talented woman is necessary. What I want to share are some of Julie’s lesser known roles that you may not have seen before (or perhaps had forgotten about).  

Let’s begin with her early days in sketch comedy and her partnership with the comedienne, writer, director and musician Victoria Wood. These two hilarious women have been working together since the late seventies mostly on projects created by Wood. Walters has a special knack for playing eccentric and often much older people than herself. Examples of some of her characters include Mrs. Overall (Acorn Antiques), Petula Giordino (Dinnerladies) and this one-off sketch as a waitress who should have retired some years ago…

Here is a sketch from a 1991 TV special Julie Walters & Friends starring Victoria and Julie as typical little girls.

Billy Elliot (2000): I think we all remember this film about the young boy who discovers his passion for dance when his coal miner father sends him to the community center for boxing lessons. But did you recall that Walters was the teacher who discovered Billy’s talent, pushed him to practice and encouraged him to chase his dream and audition for the Royal Ballet School?

Driving Lessons (2006):  In this charming little film, Ms. Walters plays Evie Walton, a washed up, alcoholic actress who hires a sheltered teenage boy named Ben (Rupert Grint) to be her companion and driver for the summer. With her free-spirited approach to life, Evie brings Ben out of his shell and teaches him about girls and how to stand up for himself particularly when it comes to his domineering mother.

Becoming Jane (2007): Loosely based the true life love story of Jane Austen, this film is actually a favorite period drama of mine. In a supporting but pivotal part, Julie portrays Jane’s mother, a woman who wants the best for her children but is brutally practical when it comes to the realities of life and love.

The Jury (2011):  In this ensemble courtroom drama, Ms. Walters is Emma Watts, the defense attorney in the retrial of a man convicted of a three murders. New evidence has emerged that calls her client’s guilt into question. Emma proceeds to put the judicial system and all its ancillary institutions on trial in order to win Alan Lane’s (John Lynch) freedom.

I hope I’ve enticed you to seek out a Julie Walters’ film or TV show you’ve never tried or put you in the mood to re-watch one again. I never fail to laugh out loud at her comic performances or be surprisingly touched by the dramatic ones. Even her interviews are entertaining.

If your favorite Julie Walters roles/characters weren’t mentioned, please share them in the comments section below!