Celia Imrie is a much esteemed and well-recognised English actress with a career spanning some 45 years.
Imrie has won an Olivier Award, a Women in Film and Television ’Lifetime Achievement award’, was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild, and featured as a Variety magazine ’Icon’.
Imrie is also a Sunday Times bestselling author and has appeared in near-countless plays and theatre productions.
One of Imrie’s first appearances was as a maid in the 1978 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. She has now appeared in many quintessential and classic British rom-com, comedy films and films for child, family and teenage audiences.
There are some superb and unforgettable films in there which you’re bound to recognise.
Celia in Calendar Girls (2003)
The resoundingly influential Calendar Girls is an exceptional tribute to the true story. It’s wholesome, funny, fulfilling and the incredible cast are unforgettable.
Based on the true story of middle-aged women from Yorkshire who posed for a nude calendar to raise money for leukaemia research under the auspices of the Women’s Institute, Calendar Girls was the perfect excuse to gather some of the most influential female actresses of their generation.
The calendar girls themselves are Imrie, Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, and Penelope Wilton. Imrie plays Celia, whose big moment for the calendar comes when she poses using iced buns to cover her top half. Mirren exclaims, "We’re going to need considerably bigger buns!"
Imrie told The Guardian that people still call her Bigger Buns on the street 13 years on!
Una Alconbury in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Another modern rom-com classic that is on yearly rotation every Christmas at least. This critically acclaimed film follows Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) on her journey between two competing romances. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant star alongside - one of the most memorable trios in rom-com history.
Bridget Jones’s Diary inspired a franchise followed by Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016). Together, the film series has grossed a fantastic $756 million worldwide.
Imrie played Una Alconbury, who was a friend of Bridget’s mother. One of her key scenes is throwing a party originally themed around "Tarts and Vicars". This prompts Bridget to turn up in a bunny costume, only to be alerted of a change of plans. But, of course, it was too late to change by then!
Mrs Selma Quickly in Nanny McPhee (2005)
Nanny McPhee features Imrie alongside fellow Bridget Jones star Colin Firth and Emma Thompson. Based on Nurse Matilda books, it’s about a governess who tries to reign in the exceedingly bad behaviour of 7 children, but a startling magic tale ensues.
Mrs Selma Quickly is thrice-widowed, grumpy and dislikes children, and Imrie plays the role superbly.
Matron in St. Trinian’s (2007)
St. Trinian’s is so well-known and successful that it’s hard to perceive it as an independent film. Still, it is one of the highest-grossing independent films of the last 30 years.
St Trinian’s is an anarchic school that homes anarchic girls and is run by an eccentric headmistress, an altogether chaotic story of youth angst and rebellion. The headmistress can’t pay the bills, and a more straight-faced and conventional educational minister steps in to set things straight or close the school for good.
Outrageous but upbeat, St. Trinian’s received mixed reviews but is one of the most popular films of its genre. Imrie joins a strong cast (that again features Colin Firth). She plays Matron, who has a great selection of short lines.
Homily Clock in The Borrowers (1997)
Based on the 1950s Mary Norton children’s novel, The Borrowers follows a family of ’little people’ that live under the floorboards in an old house in England. The film unfolds when the house’s previous owner dies, enabling lawyer Ocious P. Potter to plan to destroy the house and build luxury apartments upon its foundations.
The Borrowers lead the fight back with the assistance of the son of the homeowner, Pete.
Imrie plays Homily Clock, the matriarch of the charming Borrowers family. The film’s special effects were particularly well-received at the time, and it received some excellent reviews. Homily was responsible for locking herself in the fridge whilst helping herself to some ice cream, an act that leads to the eventual discovery of the Borrowers.
Madge Hardcastle in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
As well as Imrie, this star-studded film features Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton. The plot centres around a band of British retirees who want to outsource their retirement to somewhere all the more exotic - and cheaper - a retirement home in India.
Lured in by some excellent advertising, the retirees wind up somewhere not what it’s cracked up to be. It happens to be each other, not the hotel, that reinvigorates their retirement.
Critics received the film well - its cast is just too good to fail, and that showed. Imrie played Madge Hardcastle, who, after several unsuccessful marriages, is raising her sights to find love in her early retirement, preferably to a rich man.
It’s a class film full of class acts and must rate as one of the best retirement films ever. For retirees, either current or prospective, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a must-watch.
If you loved the first film, then The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, released in 2015, is an excellent continuation that ropes in some new faces alongside the old ones, namely Richard Gere.
Kate in Highlander (1986)
Highlander perhaps didn’t secure the cult status as some might have hoped at the time of its release. However, it’s still a momentous film that amalgamated themes from some tricky genres and even featured Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever.
Highlander’s tremendous vision is evident still today; it places Sean Connery in a challenging role that embraced his Scottishness through and through.
This was one of Imrie’s first significant feature film roles. She plays Kate MacLeod, who, after Connor (Connery) was seemingly killed in battle, saw his return to life as something deeply suspicious. Kate and others accuse Connor of being a devil, and she professes for him to be burnt. She is overruled eventually, and Conner is instead banished from the clan.
The Vice-Chancellor in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Though Imrie didn’t appear in the first Mamma Mia film, she did appear in the second as the Vice-Chancellor of the university where Donna, Tanya, and Rosie study.
The remarkable thing about this part is that Imrie achieved her first UK Top 40 single with Lily James by covering the ABBA song When I Kissed the Teacher. As Imrie plays a woman, they had to change the lyrics, but the cover reached number 40 in August 2018.
Penelope in The Love Punch (2013)
So far, the listed films have been more-or-less rock solid, so we’ve got to throw in a shakier one. The Love Punch was not particularly critically acclaimed. Still, it’s one of those rom-coms that really has you not caring about what the critics think.
The cast is excellent and their chemistry evident, with Imrie starring alongside Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Spall. Imrie plays the neighbour (Penelope) of a divorced couple (Thompson and Brosnan) who, along with Jerry (Timothy Spall), try to recapture Richard’s (Brosnans) lost pension plan.
It makes for a fun combo of romance, drama and action. It’s a charmer that is well worth a bash for rom-com fans and another excellent example of a retirement film.
Bif in Finding Your Feet (2017)
Here’s another rock-solid rom-com, a genre that has become a mainstay of Imrie’s film acting career. After discovering that their husband is having an affair, Lady Abbott (Imelda Staunton) seeks refuge with older sister Bif (Imrie). Bif perks her up a bit, dragging her to dance classes and swimming.
It’s a touching and big-hearted story, but hard to go into why without revealing any spoilers! This rom-com is unique in cutting to the core of some more profound and sensitive topics. Another film starring Imrie that received resoundingly good reviews - it certainly won’t be the last.