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.