IMDb --> Jane Horrocks --> trade mark: “Very strong Lancashire accent”. The specificity of that might not mean much to anyone outside of the UK (no judgment; I can’t locate Maine on a map), but you’ll know the voice whenever you hear it.
The piercing, excessively rounded vowels are unmistakably Horrocks, unique in the global film industry that so frequently sands off regional accents into indistinguishable homogeneity. Maybe that’s why Horrocks’ career hasn’t ever reached the peak she did in 1998, with a Golden Globe nomination for Little Voice – she simply sounds too strange for a Hollywood career. On her fiftieth birthday, let me, David, take you on a little highlight reel tour of this superb performer’s career.
In a memorable performance that surely came close to an Oscar nod (co-star Brenda Blethyn was a nominee for Best Supporting Actress), Horrocks’ role as LV has her as a pathetically shy recluse who has an astonishing talent for mimicking classic performers from Marilyn Monroe to Shirley Bassey. Demonstrating the true dexterity of her vocal talents, Horrocks performed all these numbers herself, often aping these iconic voices so precisely, it’s hard to believe she’s not miming. Horrocks was back on UK television this week, as part of a charity edition of popular cookery show The Great British Bake Off, and her “showstopper” cake recognised the imposing shadow of her greatest role.
Having also starred in stagings of Cabaret (directed by then-boyfriend Sam Mendes - he likes his actresses) and Annie Get Your Gun, Horrocks returned to film musicals last year, in The Proclaimers' song-book musical Sunshine on Leith. She recently admitted in a rare interview that, on top of the increasing scarcity of roles for older actresses, ‘the truth is I’m not as satisfied by work as I used to be’.
So, then, let’s rewind to her immensely satisfying breakthrough. After one abandoned project with Mike Leigh, they tried again, and Horrocks’ performance in Life is Sweet shot her to global attention, snatching the Best Supporting Actress awards from the LAFCA and NSFC. Horrocks’ Nicola is an unemployed twenty-something who loathes her family and suffers from bulimia. In this clip with the great David Thewlis, she struggles to open up, with Horrocks’ voice sharper than usual, almost infantile in its whiny insistence.
“I don’t want to be a pie! I don’t like gravy.” It’s all about the Britishness to Horrocks’ voice in Chicken Run, the first full-length animated feature from Aardman Animations. In a film brimming with regional British accents (and Mel Gibson), Horrocks’ Babs is the most memorable, her chipper, rather dim character given innocent life by Horrocks’ sweet, high pitch. “Me life flashed before me eyes,” Babs says memorably, regional grammar playing havoc with spellchecks everywhere. “It was really boring.” Horrocks has become a voiceover regular since, also lending her flexible talents to Corpse Bride, Garfield 2 and Arthur Christmas.
But you know where we have to end. Horrocks will forever be known to a generation as Bubble, the incompetent, borderline insane assistant to Edina on Absolutely Fabulous, one of UK television’s finest and campest comedies. Bubble’s penchant for bizarre outfits and her rather off-kilter understanding of the world made Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley’s desperate divas look positively normal. Horrocks has always been game for anything, and that’s what makes her an absolute treasure. Happy fiftieth, Jane!