6 Fun Facts About Lesley Manville

If you don’t know about the many talents of Lesley Manville, we’ve got all the details on her award-winning career and fascinating life story. From the first passion she trained for in life, to her advocacy work in the film industry and more, get to know the class act star of Magpie Murders.

  1. 1.

    She Originally Trained as a Singer

    Lesley Manville attending the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, 2015

    Manville has been acting for nearly five decades now, but her first awards weren’t for acting at all. Starting at a young age, the Magpie Murders star trained as a soprano singer, and was recognized for her efforts.

    “When I was eight, it was clear I was a very good singer,” she revealed in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. She further explained that she was a twotime Sussex (where she was born and raised) champion in the under-18 category.

    “[My father] was very charismatic, a bit of a crooner,” she told The New Yorker in 2020. “We used to sing duets. My sister Diana and I had good classical singing voices, and we’d go entertain people at little cabaret clubs. People might be playing bingo. We’d put on our little catsuits and sing a few songs and get paid a pound.”

    At 15, she set off to London to train as a singer, but soon changed to training as an actor, taking on roles in anything she could. “I did anything and everything. I did pantomime, I did TV, I did children’s-show presenting, I did a musical,” Manville continued.

  2. 2.

    She Was Invited to Join a Famous Dance Troupe

    Arlene Phillips choreographer director of Hot Gossip 1984
    Arlene Phillips choreographer and director of Hot Gossip, rehearsing with a children's dance troupe in 1984.

    Renowned dancer, teacher, and choreographer (and later judge of Strictly Come Dancing, a competition series where celebrities are paired with professional dance partners) Arlene Phillips once invited Manville to join her popular dance troupe Hot Gossip while teaching at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, where Manville was studying.

    She declined the offer, knowing by that point that her true dream was acting. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still have a love for dancing. It is, after all, in her blood. “My mother was a very good ballet dancer, but gave it up at the age of 18 to marry my father and have a family, Manville told Vice in 2018. “She’d been invited to dance at Sadler’s Wells—a very famous dance company in England—but she didn’t pursue it. So the dancing machine was in me.”

    (That makes not one, but two talented Manville women who were invited to join famous dance groups!)

  3. 3.

    She's an Advocate for Older Women in TV and Film

    Lesley Manville on stage at an event in 2019

    In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2020, Manville was asked about signing an open letter dubbed the Acting Your Age petition, which called for better opportunities for older women in film, a cause she feels passionately about.

    “There is no denying I’m doing very well, and that I’ve worked constantly through my 50s and I’m now working constantly through my 60s,” she said. “I’m not just playing the wife, the mother, to somebody who’s the more interesting character. I am playing the interesting characters. But there’s not enough of it around. So that’s why I’m wanting to put my name to those causes, because it needs to get better so that more of my peers have more work.”

    Times are clearly changing, though, if you ask Manville. “Being 60 isn’t what it was when my mother was alive,” she told AARP in 2020. “I don’t think of myself as old. If I would have been my age 20 years ago I would have probably been finding it much, much harder. It’s shifting and older women are fronting films: myself, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Annette Bening. We’re out there making films that tell important stories, playing some amazing women who are defiantly not conforming to what’s expected of them once they’re over 60.”

  4. 4.

    She’s Playing Princess Margaret in the Final Two Seasons of The Crown

    In 2020, it was announced that Manville would be the third and final actress to play Princess Margaret in Seasons 5 and 6 of The Crown (the final two seasons of the series). Vanessa Kirby played Princess Margaret in Seasons 1 and 2, and Helena Bonham Carter played the royal in Seasons 3 and 4.

    But, it’s not Manville’s first time in a production about the royals. At the age of sixteen, she made her West End debut in I and Albert, a musical about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 2009, she played Margaret Thatcher in the docudrama The Queen, which featured a combination of dramatic recreations, archival footage, and interviews about five major events throughout Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

  5. 5.

    She's No Stranger to MASTERPIECE

    Lesley Manville in World on Fire Season 1

    MASTERPIECE fans, if you’re wondering where you’ve spotted Manville before, you’ve likely seen her in some of our other shows broadcast on MASTERPIECE including: The Cazalets alongside Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville; a Hercule Poirot episode “Cards on the Table”; and in Cranford as Mrs. Rose, alongside Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton (Flesh and Blood), and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey ).

    Most recently, Manville appeared on MASTERPIECE as the opinionated and hard-headed, Robina Chase, whose son Harry, a translator, is fighting alongside the British Army, in World on Fire.

    “It’s wonderful to be bringing Peter Bowker’s epic scripts to life again,” Manville said about World on Fire Season 2. “Rich characters telling great, human stories set against the backdrop of World War II. It’s a feast!”

  6. 6.

    She's a Veteran Theater Star

    Lesley Manville in
    Lesley Manville in the play "Grief" by Mike Leigh at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2011.

    Her professional acting career may have kicked off with a few small roles before joining the long-running soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1975, but her first official acting role was on the stage in the musical I and Albert at 16. She has since been seen in more than 30 theatrical productions.

    In 2014, Manville won the Laurence Olivier Award (recognizing excellence in professional theater in London) for Best Actress in Ghosts written by playwright Henrik Ibsen, as well as the Critic’s Circle Best Actress Award. Manville was also nominated for Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Actress for her roles in Grief (2012) and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018).


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