Helen Mirren

British Actors Excel at Playing Real People: They’ve Got the Oscars to Prove It

British actors aren’t strangers to Academy Award acclaim. Last weekend Eddie Redmayne, star of The Theory of Everything in which he gave a radiant performance as world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, joined the company of almost thirty of his fellow countrymen and women in winning a Best Leading Actor or Actress statuette since the honors were first bestowed 87 years ago.

Vivien Leigh won twice for her portrayal of some very famous fictional characters; in 1940 for Gone with the Wind and in 1952 for A Streetcar Named Desire. Laurence Olivier was recognized in 1949 for his interpretation of one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet.

Today, however, I want to focus on those actors, like Mr. Redmayne who have taken on the daunting challenge of playing a person who actually existed and were rewarded with a little bald golden man for their trouble. The biopic trend has been on the increase since the 1980’s but that’s not to say that people weren’t bringing history to life long before that time.

Helen Mirren Will Bring the Queen to Broadway in 2015 with ‘The Audience’

Theater lovers of America, it’s okay if you’re sometimes secretly sad that we so infrequently get the chance to see the many great British productions that go up in the West End. Sure, sometimes you get lucky and are on a UK vacation right when something grand is on, but given the sheer volume of long-running shows and ever-changing limited engagement options in London, well, we all know we’re missing out on something incredible pretty much nearly all the time.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of outfits such as the National Theatre Live program or various Fathom Event promotions, we do occasionally get the opportunity to see simulcasts of particularly popular British theatrical productions on a significant scale in America – both Helen McCrory’s Medea and Gillian Anderson’s A Streetcar Named Desire were recently screened nationwide, and Danny Boyle’s brilliant production of Frankenstein is about to get another round of encore runs in honor of Halloween (and the fact that the Benedict Cumberbatch-led production consistently sells out houses all over the country). But, as much as we love it, it’s just not the same.

However, sometimes, a particularly popular or acclaimed British production will be picked up and recreated on Broadway, giving American fans with the ability and desire to go to New York the chance to see the show in person for themselves. Most recently, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe reprised his leading role in The Cripple of Inishmaan last winter, but come 2015, the Great White Way is going to get a little bit more regal.

More Amazing British Actors Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Creative Ways

The online furor surrounding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – an awareness-raising charity event in which you are nominated to dump water over your head and donate to support research and treatment of the neurodegenerative disease ALS – may have settled down to a dull roar over the past week, but the viral event is by no means finished.

A slew of notable British actors have already partaken in the challenge, cheerfully dousing themselves and writing checks for a good cause, and now an even greater number have signed on, including several of the most iconic performers you could possibly think of. (Though, sadly, no Maggie Smith as yet. At least we still have something to hope for. )

Anyway, here’s a second complication of British ice bucket efforts, including such luminaries as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Helen Mirren, Doctor Who star Karen Gillan and Helena Bonham Carter, among many other familiar faces.

Click through, watch and rank your faves.

Pages