British Leading Ladies We’ll Love Forever

By Ellie Smith

7 months ago

We'd watch anything these stars were in

No shade to Hollywood, but Britain has some of the best leading ladies out there. From Sarah Lancashire to Olivia Colman and Vicky McClure, there are a whole host of brilliant women who will never fail to lure us into a new show. No matter what the TV programme or film is about, if their name is on the cast list, we’re in. Here the C&TH team share their favourite British female actresses, plus their starring roles to watch now.

British Leading Ladies We’ll Love Forever

BBC Happy Valley

Happy Valley © BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

Sarah Lancashire

I haven’t watched all of her back catalogue although I’m sure she played a supporting actress in my childhood as Corrie played in the background of my living room (though the only character I really remember is Deirdre Barlow). However, over recent years I’ve loved Sarah Lancashire’s work, particularly in Kiri and Happy Valley. Her no-nonsense, layered portrayals of fantastically written (and usually unflappable) characters are so captivating that I genuinely believe there are few people I’d rather have around in a crisis. Rebecca Cox

Watch her in:

Vicky McClure

Vicky McClure

Line of Duty is hands down one of the best police dramas of all time, and that’s in large part thanks to Vicky McClure, who is brilliant as DC Kate Fleming. Anything with her at the helm is guaranteed to be captivating viewing: I’ve loved her as a bomb disposal expert in ITV’s ultra-tense Trigger Point, and next on my list is Without Sin, a gritty prison drama which I missed when it came out last year. Ellie Smith

Watch her in:

Image: BBC/Robert Viglasky

Keeley Hawes

This woman knows how to nail a period drama – whatever the decade – and plays a fantastic role in any crime show. Loved watching her play a time travelling cop in Ashes To Ashes back in the late noughties, and more recently have enjoyed seeing her onscreen in Bodyguard, It’s A Sin and The Midwich Cuckoos. She’ll be starring in Miss Austen sometime next year, so make sure to add it to your watchlist. Charlie Colville

Watch her in:

The Crown

Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix

Olivia Colman

If there’s one British actor I adore, it has to be Olivia Colman. From Fleabag and The Night Manager to The Crown and even Heartstopper, she’s done it all – and she’s got the kind of screen presence that is both powerful and utterly charming. She’s a national treasure in my books. Martha Davies

Watch her in:

Florence Pugh in Don't Worry Darling

Florence Pugh

I watched my first Florence Pugh movie without realising it: Fighting With My Family, a way-out-of-my-comfort-zone sports biographical comedy drama starring a whole host of big names – Lena Heady (another British actress I’ll follow through the ages), Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne Johnson, with Florence Pugh at the fore. She has a magnetism to her that I’m (very obviously) not alone in feeling. Cue Little Women, Don’t Worry Darling, Oppenheimer, Black Widow… Let’s just say I even watched Midsommar for Florence Pugh. Harrowing, but she’s brilliant. Olivia Emily

Watch her in:


Rosamund Pike

After she stole the show in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, I am now and forever a Rosumand Pike devotee. I loved her as Jane Bennet in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, and of course, as the complicated Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, but it is her engrossing and comedic portrayal as the Catton family matriarch that has left her deserving of an Oscar (in my opinion). Daniella Saunders

Watch her in:

Countryside idyll on the grounds of Knebworth House aka 'Hampsie' in You

Tilly Keeper as Lady Phoebe and Charlotte Ritchie as Kate in episode 404 of You. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Charlotte Ritchie

She’s in everything from Ghosts to You to the new Wonka and she’s got a quiet charm to her acting. Tessa Dunthorne

Watch her in: