The Best British Actresses of All Time

We'll never forget our favorite film — or the leading lady who starred in it. 

British actresses in particular are in a league of their own: they flawlessly move from stage to screen and back again, capturing the quirks and signature moves of the characters they bring to life (and real-life women they portray).

From Vivien Leigh's bold and vain Scarlett O'Hara to Helen Mirren's regal and reserved Queen Elizabeth II, we'll always remember the British actresses that made these women who they are.

With countless accolades under their belts, our favourite British actresses also manage to do what eludes so many women in show business: they continue to play interesting and complex female characters as they age, rather than seeing their careers taper off after their ingenue years have come to an end.

Take our MAKER Helen Mirren: in 2010, she appeared in five films, playing a range of roles from a brothel owner to a Shakespearean Duchess. And she's just going from strength to strength.

Gutsy, talented and totally unforgettable, click through our gallery to see some of our favorite British actresses of all time.

NEXT: Why 2017 Will Be the Glory Year for Hollywood's British Leading Women »

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Photo Credit: Vivien Leigh via AP Photo


Maggie Smith, 81 Yes, we all love "Downton Abbey," but we think we can all agree we wouldn't love it even a fraction as much without the presence of the inimitable Maggie Smith, aka the Dowager Countess of Grantham, whose withering one-liners give us more pleasure than consuming an entire pint of ice cream. Of course, since she's starred in over 50 films, she's been charming audiences for decades, winning Academy Awards for her roles in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "California Suite" — and she's only one of six actresses to have won in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories. Let's not forget her memorable pop culture turns as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise and the Reverend Mother in Sister Act. The more highbrow among us will know she's also been lauded for her classical theatre roles, from Othello's Desdemona to Macbeth's Lady Macbeth. Oh Maggie, how we love you. Photo Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Judi Dench, 81 She's been Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Philomena Lee, Iris Murdoch, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and M in the Bond series, just to name a few. She's also an acclaimed theatrical actress, who particularly distinguished herself in a two-decade stint doing roles for the Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Company, including Lady Macbeth and Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing." We're convinced there's nothing Judi Dench can't do. No wonder she's one of the defining stars of the second half of the 20th century... to the present day. Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Deborah Kerr, died 2007 We'll always remember Deborah Kerr, who became known for the diversity of her roles during her 40+ year acting career. Some of our favorites? When she played Terri opposite Cary Grant in "An Affair to Remember," her Golden Globe winning turn as Anna in "The King and I," her mistreated military wife in "From Here to Eternity," and her turn as the then-oldest Bond girl in "Casino Royale." Photo Credit: Getty Images

Angela Lansbury, 90 Three words: "Murder, She Wrote." Her role as "American Miss Marple" Jessica Fletcher on the hit show cemented her status as a household name. She's also a renowned musical theater actress and Oscar-nominated film star. Photo Credit: Casey Curry/Invision/AP

Emma Thompson, 57 Emma Thompson's made a name for herself for her uncanny ability to make her period-drama characters feel utterly timeless and relatable. Films like "Howard's End," "The Remains of the Day" and "Sense and Sensibility" have made her one of our all-time favorite stars. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Helen Mirren, 71 As outspoken in person as she is extraordinary on screen, MAKER Helen Mirren played strong-willed detective Jane Tennison on "Prime Suspect" for 15 years, which garnered her an Emmy Award. She also won an Academy Award for "The Queen" — for her inspired portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II — and later took home the Tony Award when she reprised the role in the play, "The Audience." Her career has flourished in recent years, with parts in films including "Gosford Park," "Hitchcock," "The Hundred-Foot Journey" and "Trumbo."  Photo Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Vivien Leigh, died 1967 Scarlett O'Hara, Blanche DuBois: Vivien Leigh brought two of the greatest female literary heroines to life — and made them immortal, winning the Oscar for Best Actress in both "Gone with the Wind" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." She was also a star of the stage for over three decades, playing roles like Cleopatra, Juliet, Lady Macbeth and Antigone. Throughout her career, she fought — and succeeded — in dispelling the myth that she was just a pretty face. Photo Credit: AP Photo

Kristin Scott Thomas, 56 Whether she's making people laugh ("Four Weddings a Funeral") cry ("The English Patient"), or wonder at how freaking talented she really is, like when you see one of her French language films like "I've Loved You So Long" or "The Valet," Kristin Scott Thomas is utterly mesmerizing. She also has an impressive theater career, receiving accolades for her roles in Chekhov's "Three Sisters" and "The Seagull," as well as the plays "Old Times," "Betrayal," and "Electra." Photo Credit: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Kate Winslet, 41 Who isn't obsessed with Kate Winslet? From the moment she captured our attention in Titanic (and we forgave her for letting Leonardo DiCaprio drown to save her), she has been a fixture on the big screen, taking on unexpected, challenging and memorable roles in movies including "Iris," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Little Children," "The Reader," "Revolutionary Road," and "Steve Jobs." She's won an Oscar, an Emmy, four Golden Globes, three BAFTAs and even a Grammy Award — and we definitely see more statues in her future. Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Helena Bonham Carter, 50 Helena Bonham Carter seamlessly moves from period dramas like "The Wings of the Dove," "A Room with a View," and "The King's Speech" (she's another on this list who's won an Academy Award for her role as Queen Elizabeth), to spooky and quirky roles (Bellatrix Lestrange in the "Harry Potter" films, Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland," Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations"), making her one of the most versatile actresses of our time. Perhaps most impressively, she has had no formal acting training. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Tilda Swinton, 55 Never one to shy away from a demanding role, Scottish actress Tilda Swinton has played a man ("Orlando"), Caravaggio's muse and girlfriend (Caravaggio), Isabella of France ("Edward II"), the White Witch ("Chronicles of Narnia") and a lawyer with no scruples ("Michael Clayton"), among many other parts. She's also a performance artist and beloved muse to many designers, thanks to her unusual and individual signature style. Photo Credit: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Julie Christie, 76 In more recent years, Julie Christie has stepped out of the spotlight (although whenever she does return to the big screen, like in her role as an Alzheimer's-stricken wife in 2007's "Away With Her," she is lauded with accolades). She doesn't need to be on our TV screens every day to make an impact: Christie will always be remembered for bringing the "Doctor Zhivago" character Lara to life. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rene Macura

Julie Andrews, 81 Mary Poppins. Maria in "The Sound of Music." Millie in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Victoria (and Victor) in "Victor/Victoria." Eliza in "My Fair Lady" (the stage version). Julie Andrews has brought all of our favorite bright and sunny characters to life and we can't imagine the history of cinema without her. Photo Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Julie Walters, 66 Julie Walters first came to prominence as one half of comedic duo Wood and Walters in the '70s, working in stand-up and regional theater before landing one of her career-defining roles: Liverpudlian Rita in "Educating Rita," who goes to university to study literature and expand her horizons. Walters went on to win the BAFTA for the film version, starring opposite Michael Caine, and picked up another BAFTA for her role as a ballet teacher in "Billy Elliot." Most recently, she's starred in "Brooklyn," which also earned her a BAFTA nomination.  Photo Credit: Getty Images

Vanessa Redgrave, 79 Beginning her career as a stage actress, Vanessa Redgrave first made her name playing Rosalind in "As You Like It" with the RSC in 1961. Her most notable stage roles include "Long Day's Journey into Night," "The Aspern Papers," "The Year of Magical Thinking," and "Driving Miss Daisy." Redgrave also has a storied film career, winning the Oscar for "Julia" and receiving nominations for films including "Howard's End," "Isadora," and "Mary, Queen of Scots." Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller even called her the "greatest living actress of our times." We think that pretty much says it all.  Photo Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan