On the face of it – and a dashed pretty face it is too – Sophia Myles is a bundle of cliches. Blonde of hair, blue of eye and rosy of cheek, she’s a vicar’s daughter who was spotted in the school play. Then she was studying Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and plays by Harold Pinter; within two years she was acting in the BBC’s Mansfield Park with Harold Pinter.
Her looks have prompted comparisons with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio – but you couldn’t call her a dumb blonde. A self-confessed “terrible swot”, she was top of her class at school in London and with straight As in her A-levels was about to take philosophy degree at Cambridge. But then – whoosh! – her career took off like a space probe.
Her first television role was as Lady Jane Grey in a BBC adaptation of The Prince And The Pauper. She was 16 at the time – four years younger than Helena Bonham Carter was when she played the 16th-century nine-days queen. Bonham Carter has been bemoaning typecasting, and Myles will have to tread carefully to avoid it. Apart from Susan in Mansfield Park, her costumed English roses include Kate Nickleby in Nicholas Nickleby and Agnes Fleming, Oliver’s mother, in Oliver Twist (both for ITV). A minor character in the novel, Agnes was built up as a tragic heroine in Alan Bleasdale’s adaptation, though mostly in flashback, having died at the start. Myles’s characters are prone to dying young, a misfortune also visited on her as Johnny Depp’s wife in From Hell.
This month marks her cinematic debut in a leading role, though as another corseted coquette. In The Abduction Club she stars as Anne Kennedy, one of two wealthy sisters in 18th-century Ireland, pursued by aristocratic but skint young rakes who belong to a club devoted to kidnapping and seducing moneyed maidens with a view to a dowry. But with Anne and Catharine they’ve bitten off more than they can woo.
Now 22, Myles has shrugged off those cleavage-enhancing period gowns once or twice. Her cv includes two pieces by Fay Weldon: the feminist publishing satire Big Women, for Channel 4, and the stage play Alice May And Rowan Baker. She can also be seen soon as a boarding-school bad girl in the spooky British thriller Dead In The Water. “I was stunned by Sophia’s performance,” says its writer/ director Merlin Ward. “She has talent and beauty that truly light up the screen.”
We’ll be seeing more of them.
Dead In The Water is released on VHS and DVD on June 24 The Abduction Club is released on July 19