Wednesday, January 21, 2015

8 Great Dames: Actresses Who Have Achieved British Damehood

While Dames may conjure images of castles and queenly coronations, technically they are the female equivalent of knights (but not that kind). Dames are high-achieving women who’ve made significant contributions to society in the UK—and, in this instance, actresses have made some seriously good movies (not to mention TV shows and plays). Dames may not get crowns or carriages, but they do get to enjoy the status of being in a very exclusive British honor society and the acknowledgement that they have shaped the world with their creative talents. Here, a list of our favorite actresses with British Damehoods.

1. Angela Lansbury
A British-born American transplant since 1940, Lansbury was appointed a Dame to the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1994 and promoted to Dame Commander in 2014 as for services to drama and to charitable work and philanthropy. Landsbury stars in numerous award-winning classics, namely The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Manchurian Candidate but she’s best known to American audiences as sleuth Jessica Fletcher on the crime TV show Murder, She Wrote, which ran for an impressive 12 seasons. As if Damehood wasn’t enough, Lansbury received an Honorary Oscar in 2013 for her 70 years of work in the motion picture industry.

2. Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie is a rare American actress to be awarded Damehood, and to win it for her political activism, not for her acting. In June 2014, Jolie was appointed an Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for services to the United Kingdom’s foreign policy and for campaigning to end sexual violence in war zones. While Jolie is known for fast-paced action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Salt, she’s also earned an Oscar nod for the the kidnapping drama The Changeling. She was named Hollywood’s highest-paid actress by Forbes in 2009, 2011, and 2013—and she uses a lot of that cash toward humanitarian causes in the developing world.

3. Elizabeth Taylor
A dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States, this screen goddess was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000, a decade before her death. Taylor rose to fame as a child star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, helming the classic National Velvet at the tender age of 12. As an adult, Taylor won an Oscar for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

4. Helen Mirren
In 2003, the London-born Mirren earned her Damehood in the Order of the British Empire for services to the performing arts. Like fellow Dames Judi Dench, Mirren started her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s. Since then, Mirren’s art has often imitating her Damely life: She’s played the queen of England many times in her career, on both screen and stage, most famously as Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), for which she won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

5. Judi Dench
Long before most American audiences knew her name, Judi Dench was anointed a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II, back in 1988. At that point, she’d already had a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company before commanding a second and third act as a movie star, racking up countless honors for her big screen performances: Dench has won Oscar nods for her roles in artsy and cinematic flicks, playing an eccentric landlady in Chocolat and a morally confused British history teacher in Notes on a Scandal. Dench joins her longtime collaborator and fellow Dame in the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which finds a group of aging brits at a picturesque retirement hotel in India.

6. Julie Andrews
In 2000, the English actress Julie Andrews was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the performing arts. “Service” is an understatement, as Andrews and her legendary pipes helmed the third-highest grossing flick of all time: The Sound of Music. And generations of children have enjoyed her as the magical nanny in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins. Just when audiences started to count her out, Andrews revived her career in the 2000s playing a Damely queen in The Princess Diaries and doing voice acting in Shrek movies and Despicable Me.

7. Maggie Smith
Smith is the commensurate actress-and-Dame, having been awarded Damehood not once but twice: First she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1990 for services to the performing arts and then in 2014 she was promoted to a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to drama. And it’s very well-deserved: American audiences fell in love with Smith in the ’90s and 2000s, in family-friendly flicks like Hook, Sister Act, and as Professor Miverva McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise. Now she’s practically synonymous with the very Damely and saucy Dowager Countess of Grantham, which she plays on the PBS period drama Downtown Abbey. Smith, it should be noted, also co-stars with fellow Dame Judi Dench in multiple flicks.

8. Vanessa Redgrave
Way back in 1967, the London-born Redgrave was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, but she stoked controversy when she declined a Damehood in 1999 from Tony Blair’s New Labour government. Redgrave got her start with the Royal Shakespeare Company, like many of her fellow Dames, and first dipped into film in the ’70s, narrating the 1977 documentary film The Palestinian while starring same year in Julia, about a woman murdered by the Nazi German regime, for which she won an Oscar. In the ’90s, she had an American movie heyday as a crime boss Max in Mission: Impossible and Dr. Sonia Wick in Girl, Interrupted.

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