[WATCH] ‘Loving’ actress Ruth Negga soars as Shirley Bassey in award-winning ‘Shirley’

Irish actress Ruth Negga is a strong Oscar contender this year for her restrained performance in “Loving” as real-life civil rights pioneer Mildred Loving, one half of an interracial couple who faced imprisonment in 1958 Virginia after getting married. After she and her husband, Richard (Joel Edgerton), are forced to leave their hometown for D.C., they decide to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court, leading to a landmark decision that ended anti-miscegenation laws.

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Negga, 34, may be a relative newcomer to American films, but she has been a fixture on the London stage and British screens for the better part of a decade. Shortly after graduating from the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College with a BA in Acting Studies, she reaped an Olivier Award nomination in 2004 as Most Promising Newcomer for her work as the teenage girlfriend of a drug dealer in Stella Feehily‘s “Duck.”

She was then riveting as the party girl whom Ben Whishaw‘s character is accused of killing in 2004’s “Criminal Justice.” This acclaimed limited series was just remade by HBO as “The Night Of.” And in the latter half of the last decade, Negga was an integral part of Nicholas Hytner‘s company at London’s National Theatre. She held her own with Helen Mirren in a controversial 2009 staging of “Phedre” and the following year played Ophelia in an acclaimed modern dress version of “Hamlet” opposite Rory Kinnear. 

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In 2011, she was cast as the sassy singer Shirley Bassey in the BBC telefilm “Shirley,” which recounted her rise to fame from a small Welsh fishing town to the toast of London and beyond. As you can see from the clip above, Negga captures all the nuances of this powerhouse talent, best-known stateside for belting out the Bond theme tunes “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever.” She earned critical praise (read excerpts from some of her rave notices below) and, not surprisingly, won Best Actress at the 2012 Irish Film and Television Awards for her bravura.

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Kylie O’Brien (Daily Telegraph): “The joy of ‘Shirley’ – aside from the songs (Negga sang competently on the early numbers, the showstoppers were Dame Shirley’s voice) – was watching Negga turn from a bolshie teenager to spoilt diva, switching from Welsh accent to a weird, made-up, superstar drawl, with some world-class tantrums and shouting matches. Negga played the part full-throttle.”

Sam Wollaston (The Guardian): “Negga, who’s memorable in the title role – sultry, captivating, gorgeous, silky as silk one minute, fiery as fire the next. Convincingly Welsh too, when she’s not trying to be all posh, or international. Cardiff via St John’s Wood and Hollywood. A fine performance.”

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