It's pretty standard fare for actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have incredibly successful careers and passionate fanbases too. But you'd be hard pressed to find an actress within the MCU who's had a more expansive career, and a more hyper vocal fanbase, than British actress Hayley Atwell. The 37-year-old actress has been working consistently for nearly the last 15 years, but since entering the Hollywood landscape as a recurring supporting player in Marvel, Atwell's star has risen and her career has taken off along with it.
In the past handful of years alone, Atwell has appeared in multiple prestige period dramas; headlined multiple series and miniseries all on her own; and featured in a few major films as well. Even before her career really began to take off, she was consistently working with the likes of filmmakers such as Woody Allen, and appearing in high concept period and fantasy works, too. Here, we take a look back at the ten most memorable roles she's tackled so far in her career.
10 Angela Stark (Cassandra's Dream)
Cassandra's Dream is definitely not one of Woody Allen's best films. Despite featuring an impressive cast like Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Sally Hawkins, and Jim Carter, the movie is largely unforgettable, and totally under performed at the box office. Still, Atwell manages to turn in one of the standout performances in the film, as the actress Angela Stark, the love interest of McGregor's character Ian.
Allen's female characters are usually some of his more controversial ones, but Angela, though occasionally hyper sexualized, manages to serve as one of the guiding posts of the film. She even gives voice to certain significant pieces of dialogue that foreshadow the entire film's storyline - lines that only make sense upon repeat viewings, at that.
9 Julia Flyte (Brideshead Revisited)
Based on the 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, the 2008 Miramax film adaptation finds Atwell joining a stellar British cast of talents including Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Felicity Jones, Michael Gambon, and Emma Thompson. Atwell's Julia Flyte is a character who comes from a world of wealth and religious conservatism - a woman whose passionate personal life stands in conflict with her religious identity.
The 2008 film isn't as strong as earlier adaptations of the beloved novel, but Atwell's performance as the conflicted leading lady makes for one of the high points of the film, in addition to Matthew Goode's breakout role as the aspiring social climber Charles Ryder, Julia's forever star-crossed love.
8 Eva Delectorskaya (Restless)
While Atwell may be best known for her work as a secret agent of another name, her turn in the 2012 miniseries Restless, opposite Rufus Sewell, finds her taking on a completely different kind of espionage. Restless follows the young Eva Delectorskaya, a British-Russian citizen who finds herself drawn into the world of World War II spies after the untimely death of her brother, who was himself a spy.
Atwell's performance of the truly gifted spy Delectorskaya is one of the most nuanced ones she has given to date, as the undertakes countless intense adventures and romances and faces betrayals head on time and again. Opposite the always stellar Sewell, Atwell is truly a talent to watch, as both of them elevate the otherwise mediocre material.
7 Aliena (The Pillars of the Earth)
Medieval fantasy fiction is all the rage these days. If you're looking for your next fix after Game of Thrones ends, you might find something special in the 2010 Starz miniseries The Pillars of the Earth. The miniseries boasts one of the most impressive casts of British talent, including Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Redmayne, Matthew Macfayden, and, of course, Hayley Atwell.
Atwell's work in this, as the eventual leader Aliena, was strong enough to earn her a Golden Globe nomination. Her character endures many unthinkable hardships, but emerges from the series as one of its true heroes worth rooting for, amidst a world full of despicable people doing terrible things.
6 Margaret Schlegel (Howards End)
If it isn't clear by now, we'll take this opportunity to make it clear for you: Hayley Atwell is sort of a natural fit for the world of period dramas - and for good reason. She shines in this world, regardless of which period she resides in. One of her most recent forays into this genre was Kenneth Lonergan's 2017 miniseries Howards End, based on the beloved novel by E. M. Forster.
In Howards End, Atwell gets to play yet another fiercely independent and vocal female character who stands in direct opposition with the times. Margaret is an intellectual woman, who finds herself thrust into the world of the wealthy elites, and in charge of an estate the likes of which her family has never known. Atwell's portrayal of the fiercely compassionate Margaret hits all of the right notes conveyed in Forster's words - showing that she was the perfect choice for the role.
5 Evelyn Robin (Christopher Robin)
The 2018 film Christopher Robin continued Disney's trend of bringing to life beloved animated characters in new live action forms. The movie ostensibly concerned itself with a sort of Hook-like premise - an older, jaded Christopher Robin learns to embrace the world of the Hundred Acre Wood again, for the sake of improving his family's life, and passing the world on to his own daughter. It's an adorable movie, which is strongest in its moments within the Hundred Acre Wood.
Unfortunately, the film struggles more in its depiction of the purely human world, especially in Christopher's struggling home life with his daughter and wife. But Atwell turns in a reliable performance as Christopher's harried wife, Evelyn, who takes the initiative to confront Christopher about his failings and pursue the life she feels she and her daughter both deserve.
4 Cinderella's mother (Cinderella)
As the first of the new slate of live action Disney adaptations, the 2015 film Cinderella certainly had a lot of expectations riding upon it. With the casting of Lily James in the lead princess role, and Richard Madden appearing as the mythical Prince Charming, the film mostly succeeded in producing a worthy fairytale, even if it struggled in certain feel good storytelling areas.
A true strength of the live action adaptation, however, was that it explored Ella's childhood in far more detail than the animated movies ever did. In her brief role as Ella's mother, Hayley Atwell contributed multiple key moments to the film, including its central tenet, "Have courage and be kind."
3 Martha (Black Mirror)
Black Mirror is unarguably one of the most truly riveting and original television series in recent years. And in its second season premiere, "Be Right Back,' Hayley Atwell turned in one of the series' most emotionally riveting and heartbreaking performances to date. As a young woman struggling to move on following the loss of her boyfriend, portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson, Atwell's Martha allows the series to tackle tricky discussions of love and loss in the digital age.
A pregnant Martha soon finds herself engaging in a quasi relationship with an artificially intelligent android, that has been uploaded with all of her boyfriend's memories. But he is never really quite her boyfriend, as he lacks the innate personality traits and quirks that made him the man she once loved. Atwell's portrayal of Martha's internal struggles with the morality of her decisions is truly gripping from start to finish.
2 Hayes Morrison (Conviction)
To put it simply, ABC's Conviction was not a good show by any means. A knockoff of the far more successful - although debatably better or worse - Scandal, the series was nonetheless one of Atwell's most high profile roles to date. It's one of the only series that Atwell has led so far, and it also presented itself as her next role after her short-lived (but much better) ABC series Agent Carter was sadly cancelled.
As the perpetual screw up Hayes Morrison, Atwell is tasked with playing a quasi political fixer slash crisis manager, an Olivia Pope wannabe who never quite comes off as believable is any way. Atwell tries her best to sell the role, but between her unconvicing American accent, and the hollow nature of the character's "meaningful" speeches, Hayes never feels like a character worth rooting for - and Conviction was never a series worth watching.
1 Peggy Carter (Agent Carter)
And finally, here we are: the role that put Hayley Atwell on the map to begin with, and made her a household name within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its incredibly passionate fanbase. Peggy Carter made quite the impression in Captain America: The First Avenger, although she was hardly executed as well as she would be the eventual series Agent Carter. She would appear in countless other movies, including Captain America; The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and - for better or worse - Avengers: Endgame.
But the real strength of Peggy's character can be found in Agent Carter, which allowed Atwell to delve in truly emotional, deep material as Peggy made a name for herself as an agent, as an independent woman, and as a role model to many. Agent Carter allowed her to be more than just a love interest and occasional action hero. It allowed her to be a real character, a real woman, and a real hero - on her terms, and no one else's.