With an expansive range that stretches from Shakespeare to Chicken Run and just about everything in between, actress Imelda Staunton has, not surprisingly, become one of the most highly respected actresses working in the U.K. If her penchant for playing what many would consider to be mundane, everyday characters found Staunton criminally overlooked in the early years of her career, it was her keen ability to inject those characters with a remarkable complexity that eventually made the stage mainstay-turned-small-screen powerhouse one of Britain's most sought-after talents.
A London native and graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Staunton wasted no time launching her career following graduation, becoming associated with such prestigious venues as The Old Vic and the National Theatre. A trio of productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company gained her numerous critical accolades, and in 1986 Staunton made an impressive television debut in the legendary BBC production of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective. Increasingly busy throughout the 1990s, Staunton continued to gain momentum on-stage while earning three Oliviers for her performances in the The Corn Is Green, A Chorus of Disapproval, and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.
As Staunton's numerous stage roles continued to earn her critical success, frequent television and film roles made her a familiar and endearing face to the general public. Though many of her U.K. television roles went unseen by stateside audiences, supporting roles in such features as Much Ado About Nothing, Sense and Sensibility, and Shakespeare in Love found Staunton slowly working her way into the conscience of U.S. film buffs as well. Moving into the new millennium, Staunton's roles in such films as Chicken Run (for which she provided the voice of Bunty), Crush, Bright Young Things, and I'll Be There found the established television actress actively distancing herself from the small screen in favor of feature films.
Of course, every actor dreams of the breakthrough role that will make him or her an international star, and for Imelda Staunton that role was of a 1950s era abortionist caught in a downward spiral in director Mike Leigh's 2004 drama Vera Drake. Her undeniably affecting portrayal of the title role -- a selfless housewife and cleaning woman who makes a name for herself performing illegal abortions -- earned her near-universal praise. After earning accolades from both The Venice Film Festival and The New York Film Festival as well as the Los Angeles and Chicago film critic associations, Staunton had undeniably arrived when the role earned her a Best Actress nomination for the 77th Annual Academy Awards.
Subsequent roles in the U.K. television comedy Little Britain as well as the features Nanny McPhee and Freedom Writers served well to introduce her to entirely new, often American, audiences. In 2007, just one year after appearing in a colorful Masterpiece Theatre production of the children's classic The Wind and the Willows, she remained in the world of fantasy for her role in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Staunton played Dolores Umbridge -- the latest in a long line of Defense Against the Dark Arts professors -- whose severe disposition drew the ire of Harry Potter himself. She was part of the cast of the well-respected television production Cranford, and appeared in the inspirational drama Freedom Writers. She teamed with Mike Leigh again for 2010's Another Year, and that same year she appeared in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. She continued to work in animated family films such as Arthur Christmas and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.