Andrea Riseborough’s 10 best performances – ranked!

The British actor is up for best actress at the Oscars this Sunday for her role in To Leslie. But how does that compare with her other key turns?

10. Mindhorn (2016)

There’s a fascination in seeing an actor of Andrea Riseborough’s class cast as the straight woman in a wacky comedy but she deadpans it out with style. Richard Thorncroft, played by Julian Barratt, is a washed-up actor who in the 80s played a cop with a mind-reading bionic eye called Mindhorn. Now in the present day, a crazed serial killer who thinks Mindhorn is real demands to negotiate with him, and so Thorncroft gets back into character – and all this to the exasperation of the real investigating officer played by Riseborough.

9. WE (2011)

Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy in WE.
Sexy disillusionment … Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy in WE. Photograph: Semtex Films\im Global/Allstar

Riseborough is living proof that it is possible to be very good in a very bad film. She plays Wallis Simpson (opposite James D’Arcy as the Duke of Windsor) in Madonna’s toe-curlingly shallow and naive Vogue-photoshoot-type account of Simpson’s role in the abdication and the later unfortunate business of hobnobbing with the Führer – an indiscretion thankfully left undramatised. Riseborough’s Wallis rules the screen with her clipped, patrician tones, jolie-laide charisma and sexy disillusionment. The film didn’t deserve her.

8. Brighton Rock (2010)

Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough in Brighton Rock.
Underrated … Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough in Brighton Rock. Photograph: BBC Films/Allstar

In Rowan Joffé’s interesting and underrated 60s-period update to Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, with Sam Riley playing ruthless teenage gangster Pinkie, Riseborough plays the timid and mousy waitress Rose who inadvertently has evidence that could convict Pinkie of murder. So he has to seduce and marry her so that she cannot give evidence against him. Riseborough shows how Rose changes from being a child to a tough gangster’s moll, though all the time gloomily aware of the sinfulness of what she is doing.

7. Mandy (2018)

Riseborough’s role in Mandy is to get alongside one of the greatest death-metal horror freakouts of recent times, and it taps into that distinctive childlike quality that many directors have found in her. Nicolas Cage plays a logging worker who lives in a remote cabin; Riseborough plays the eponymous Mandy, his sensitive girlfriend who draws comic book figures. When she is tortured by a Mansonesque intruder, Nic Cage pulls the pin from his acting grenade, but maybe it is the gentle, haunted Riseborough who steals the scene.

6. Nancy (2018)

Andrea Riseborough in Nancy.
Eerie … Andrea Riseborough in Nancy. Photograph: Universal Pictures/Allstar

J Cameron-Smith and Steve Buscemi play a careworn middle-aged couple whose infant daughter disappeared 30 years ago; now a woman called Nancy shows up, played by Riseborough, with an eerie resemblance to the police computer simulation of how the missing girl would look now as an adult. She demands to be accepted by her parents. But is something else going on here? A great showcase for Riseborough’s capacity of portraying wounded, damaged souls.

5. Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Andrea Riseborough and Michael Keaton in Birdman.
Brittle, beautiful … Andrea Riseborough and Michael Keaton in Birdman. Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy

Riseborough plays a brittle, difficult, beautiful stage star in a semi-covert relationship with her co-star: Michael Keaton, who plays an actor producing an ultra-serious Broadway drama in an attempt to efface the memory of his former role as a silly movie superhero. She cleverly conveys the panicky anxiety of her love life as she tenderly nurtures Keaton’s Riggan while also dealing with her feelings for another performer played by Naomi Watts.

4. Shadow Dancer (2012)

A film about the Northern Ireland Troubles which shows Riseborough’s technique, intelligence and versatility: and this is a lead role, in which her habitual talent for conveying grim disillusionment and the pressure of doing deals with the devil, carries more dramatic weight. It is the early 90s, and she plays Colette McVeigh, a young Belfast woman who comes from a well-known republican family. She is in London, where she is to make contact with a shadowy British figure played by Clive Owen. As ever, Riseborough’s fierce, pointed presence gives the movie its cutting edge.

3. The Death of Stalin (2017)

Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana in The Death of Stalin.
Soviet princess … Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana in The Death of Stalin. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Only Riseborough could have played this role: Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Joseph Stalin whose death at the beginning of Armando Iannucci’s sulphurous political comedy has an effect on her which is quite as calamitous as on any of the various apparatchiks and courtiers. Her Svetlana was always superfluous, the testy Soviet princess that no one (including her father) quite knew what to do with. Now she is utterly adrift and descends into an Ophelia-style delirium of anxiety and grief.

2. To Leslie (2022)

Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie.
And the Oscar goes to … Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie. Photograph: Alamy/Momentum Pictures/Everett Collection

The role that so sensationally got Riseborough her Academy Award nomination shows all of the brilliant qualities, the intensity, the pain and that shapeshifting switch between elfin beauty and utter desolation – in fact it is that shapeshifting capacity which might have denied her conventional star status until now. But there is a new tragic vehemence here. She is Leslie, a party animal and single mom who five years previously won $200,000 on the state lottery and squandered every dime on drink and drugs and has now become a grotesque embarrassment. But Leslie, defiant and enraged by the hypocrisy of those who were once happy to help spend her money, might yet find redemption.

1. Possessor (2020)

Brandon Cronenberg’s freaky body-horror sci-fi is the cult gem that gives us Maximum Riseborough: lethally charismatic, beautiful and unrelatable. She plays Tasya Vos, a contract killer of the future who uses mind control technology to invade the consciousness of an entirely innocent person and use her as a kind of unthinking zombie-robot to kill people – although the work is sending her over the edge. It’s a movie that seems to take place in its own weird twilight or undersea gloom and Riseborough is a sleek, predatory monster from the depths.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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