WCW: Shirley Henderson

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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.

Wish Me Luck (1987-90)

 

Clarissa (1991)

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.

Clarissa (1991)

Clarissa (1991)

 

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…

Rob Roy (1995)

I get the strong feeling that her role may be limited to “ROB! THE ENGLISH JUST DID SOMETHING VERY EVIL!!”

 

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

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).

Topsy-Turvy (1999) Topsy-Turvy (1999)

 

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.

The Way We Live Now (2001) The Way We Live Now (2001)

 

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.

Harry Potter Moaning Myrtyle

 

Villa des Roses (2002)

A tragic-sounding film set in France just before World War I.

Villa Des Roses (2002)

Julie Delpy (left) plays the lead.

 

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.

The Last King (2003) Charles II The Power and the Passion

 

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

An odd movie-within-a-movie about the filming of an 18th-century movie. I have no memory of Henderson’s role in this!

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

 

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.

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Plus, they have PUPPEHS.

 

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.

Meek's Cutoff (2008)

The fugliest of bonnets.

 

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

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).

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

 

The Crimson Petal & the White (2011)

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!

The Crimson Petal and the White (2011)

 

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.”

Anna Karenina (2012)

 

Treasure Island (2012)

Another one I’ve missed — it was a TV movie production of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Treasure Island (2012)

Sadly, no muppets.

 

In Secret (2013)

Trystan took this one for the team, so I got nothing other than that Henderson’s character does not look happy.

In Secret (2013)

 

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.

Jamaica Inn (2014)

 

Which is your favorite of Shirley Henderson’s historical costume roles?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

15 Responses

  1. MoHub

    You must see and do a review of Clarissa! The costumes are amazing, and the viewer gets to see how the pieces come together. Also, Sean Bean is a nasty piece of work in this, but Sean Pertwee is the good guy who exacts justice.

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Shirley Henderson is one of my favourite actresses. I haveve three frock flicks favourites, leaving out the Harry Potter films. They are Topsy Turvy where she sings the beautiful ‘Moon & I’ aria, The Way We Live Now where she stands up to her abusive father & Marie Antoinette where she has the cutest dog Marie Antoinette’s and Horace notwithstanding.

    I also love her Kate Minola in Shakespeare Retold Taming of the Shrew.

    Reply
  3. karena333

    My favorite is definitely “Miss Pettigrew” though I always enjoy her characters. And I have to mention that she has a phenomenal, wonderful singing voice, surprising when it eminates from such a tiny woman. It’s on full display in the 1930s setting of the current West End (London) production of “Girl From the North Country” (extended from its hit at the Old Vic).

    Reply
    • Black Tulip

      Indeed yes. I was dubious about some of the costume choices in “Girl From the North Country”, but Shirley Henderson was just mesmerizing.

      Reply
    • MoHub

      Didn’t see Jamaica Inn, but I hated the novel when I read it back in my youth, so I wouldn’t have been interested in a dramatization.

      Reply
  4. Christy Jenkins

    I love Shirley Henderson, ever since “The Way We Live Now”! The 2014 Jamaica Inn was the first thing I ever watched on Netflix. Or attempted to watch. I just couldn’t finish it, as much as I love the book.

    Reply
  5. Peacoclaur

    I always thought she was perfect as Queen Catherine in the Charles II miniseries, mostly on account of that voice and her petite build but also Shirley Henderson may be one of the few people who can do the full Velazquez look while still maintaining dignity. Few can do that and do it well, and it worked with the characters transition in the show from mousy mail order bride to (relative) badass who could hold her own against Castlemaine.

    And you mentioned Moaning Myrtle. Thank you Kendra for remembering Myrtle. Thank You. :)

    PS – will there be a post on pt 2 of the C2 miniseries anytime in the future?

    Reply
  6. Megan

    What I remember about Rob Roy is that I saw it while taking a class on material culture and gender in 18th century Scotland, and so I lost my mind when Tim Roth’s character takes off his wig because there were Serious Cultural Implications to doing so in that time and place which totally fit the moment in the scene and which the filmmakers apparently understood (given the choice). Other than the whole wig-duel thing, I remember almost nothing.

    Reply
  7. LadySlippers

    First, I gotta comment on the Mikado thing (and isn’t directed at anyone but to society as a whole). Seriously, this is supposed to be set in Japan, can people NOT give them Chinese or Korean names? Because just like Europe, Asia has vastly different cultures, and Japanese culture and names differ from all other Asian cultures. UGH it’s such a pet peeve of mine when people just blend cultures together!!!! pulls hair out Okay rant over (I lived in Japan for three years so I kinda get picky about stuff like this).

    Second, I’ve liked almost everything she’s been in. I just watched a British show called Happy Valley and Henderson is brilliant in the 2nd season. But let’s be clear, the entire show is just brilliant. (Sadly it’s set in modern times so no costumes to critique.)

    Third, I struggle to see her as anything but Moaning Myrtle. Sad. But true.

    Reply
  8. LoGirLoo

    I did think that she did well in Marie Antoinette. As much as I dislike the heavily improvised script, she and Molly Shannon worked “politely bitchy” well together.
    I absolutely can’t stand her as Moaning Myrtle though. Her portrayal was so broad, and over the top…maybe it would have worked on stage, but for film it was just nails on a chalkboard for me. Plus, even though her character is a teenage girl, the fact that Shirley Henderson was much older than Daniel Radcliffe made it super creepy when she was peeping at him in the bath in Goblet of Fire.

    Reply
  9. Kate D

    I love The Way We Live Now! I wanted to wear all the dresses.

    Not historical, but Shirley Henderson was also in a very entertaining modern adaptation of Taming of the Shrew with Rufus Sewell.

    Reply

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