I think the first time I really paid attention to Shirley Henderson was in The Way We Live Now, where she plays a very odd character. That, combined with her unusual voice — sort of whispery, sort of squeaky — initially made me think of her as altogether strange. Over time, however, I’ve come to really appreciate her talent as an actress and to value the otherworldly quality that her voice gives her roles. She’s been in a surprising number of costume-y films, so let’s take a tour!
Note: she was also in The Claim (2000) and an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple (“Murder is Easy” from 2008), but despite scouring the internets, I can’t find a pic of Henderson in either.
Wish Me Luck (1990)
British female secret agents during World War II, Henderson is in season 3.
I will sheepishly admit to not having seen this — YET. Sean Bean is the ultimate 18th-century rake in this adaptation of the Samuel Richardson novel. Henderson plays “Sally” — from pictures, I’m guessing she’s somewhat disreputable.
Rob Roy (1995)
Her part (“Morag”) is so small that I had to WORK to find any image of Henderson in this. Rob Roy attempts to be the 18th-century Braveheart, with Liam Neeson a highland Scot fighting the evil English (and Jessica Lange as his oddly cast, badly coiffed wife). I probably will have to rewatch it again, but I remember thinking it was pretty bad…
A comic look behind the scenes of Gilbert and Sullivan writing “The Mikado.” Henderson plays an alcoholic actress who gets the role of Yum Yum (ah, cultural appropriation).
The Way We Live Now (2001)
A strange story full of unlikeable characters, but really interesting and worth watching nonetheless. It’s well written and acted, and the very-early-1870s costumes are beautifully done. Henderson plays the shy and awkward daughter of a nouveau riche schemer who comes into her own and learns her own strength.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
She plays the hilariously tortured ghost Moaning Myrtle. The Harry Potter films are fantasy so I normally wouldn’t include this, but since you do see a flashback in one of the films to Myrtle’s death in the 1950s, I know y’all will complain if I don’t include this. So, done.
Villa des Roses (2002)
A tragic-sounding film set in France just before World War I.
The Last King aka Charles II: The Power & The Passion (2003)
A great BBC miniseries about King Charles II (Rufus Sewell). Henderson plays his queen, Catherine of Braganza, and she does a great job at the meek fish-out-of-water who has some iron in her after all.
An odd movie-within-a-movie about the filming of an 18th-century movie. I have no memory of Henderson’s role in this!
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sophia Coppola’s biopic is rife with strange casting choices that somehow work. Henderson is probably a little more expected as Sophie, one of Louis XVI’s aunts, than her compatriot Molly Shannon as Victoire. They’re basically there to be politely bitchy, and they do it very well.
Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
A very depressing movie about pioneers in 1845. I actually saw bits and pieces of this, and yeah, it was as bleak as it looks.
If you like deco — or if you like damn entertaining movies — see this! Frances McDormand’s world is turned upside down when she spends one day as an assistant to a fledging movie star (Amy Adams). Henderson plays the sophisticated and bitchy girlfriend of McDormand’s love interest (played by Ciaran Hinds).
I really need to go back and do an in-depth review on this fascinating story of a London prostitute who becomes enmeshed in the life of a middle-class gent, if for no other reason than I can’t remember Henderson’s role!
Anna Karenina (2012)
Haven’t seen it, so I can’t really tell you much other than that Henderson is credited as “Opera House Wife.”
Treasure Island (2012)
Another one I’ve missed — it was a TV movie production of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story.
In Secret (2013)
Trystan took this one for the team, so I got nothing other than that Henderson’s character does not look happy.
Jamaica Inn (2014)
Everything I heard about this miniseries was bad — lots of mumbling, lots of mud. I think it’s about smuggling in Cornwall? Based on a Daphne du Maurier novel and set in the early 19th century.
Which is your favorite of Shirley Henderson’s historical costume roles?