Though Brenda Blethyn has enjoyed a long and successful career as an actress on the British stage and in television, it wasn't until the release of Mike Leigh's film Secrets and Lies in 1996 that she became well-known to moviegoers as well, earning a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for what was only her third film.
Blethyn's early stage experience included stints in the stock companies of the Bubble Theatre and the Belgrade Theater of Coventry. In 1975, she joined the Royal National Theater, where she worked with some of Britain's leading stage directors, including Peter Wood, Peter Hall, and Bill Bryden, and her roles ran the gamut from Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House to Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. With the Royal Shakespeare Company, she appeared under the direction of Maximillian Schell in Tales From the Vienna Woods and in Alan Ayckbourn's Wildest Dream. In 1991, she received the British Drama Awards' Best Actress prize for her role in Steaming and the Theatre World Awards' Outstanding New Talent prize for her role in the Broadway production of Absent Friends.
Blethyn made her film debut in 1990, with a small part in Nicholas Roeg's The Witches. Robert Redford cast her as Brad Pitt's mother in A River Runs Through It in 1992, but 1996's Secrets and Lies provided Blethyn with her first substantial screen role. In a story developed through six months of improvisations with Leigh and the cast, Blethyn's performance as a woman getting to know the daughter she had given up made her an international sensation almost overnight. Blethyn received another Oscar nomination in 1999, for her role as the overbearing mother in Little Voice; her nomination complemented her growing popularity in Hollywood, reflected by her casting in such high profile projects as Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy and Them (1999). The actress would go on to appear in such films as Beyond the Sea, Pride & Prejudice, and Atonemen.
On television, Blethyn would also make splashes in BBC productions like King Lear, Henry VI, Part One, The Labours of Erica, The Buddha of Suburbia, War and Peace, and Vera.