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In 1994, he portrayed American academic Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show, and in 1996, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the World War II epic romance The English Patient.

Fiennes' work has ranged from thrillers (Red Dragon (film), (Harry Potter) to animated Biblical epic (The Prince of Egypt) to campy nostalgia (The Avengers ) to romantic comedy (Maid in Manhattan) and offbeat dramedy (Oscar and Lucinda).

Cranford joins a long list of classic period dramas on Francesca's CV, most recently Wives And Daughters (another Gaskell adaptation) and going all the way back to a 1967 TV version of Great Expectations."It was quite fun putting myself together as Lady Ludlow because she is completely different visually to me.

I had this big high wig, all grey, which I called 'Marge' as in Marge's hair in The Simpsons.

"She's determined to keep her estate intact but times are changing and she can no longer afford to.

She is offered the possibility of raising money by selling land for the coming railway, but is determined not to.""I read Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow, and (Cranford writer) Heidi Thomas's characterisation is quite faithful to her but she obviously had to leave out a huge amount of detail that I found completely fascinating.

Though polite and articulate, he still seems slightly uncomfortable in the celebrity skin. Dad embarked on a slightly mad plan to build his own house while Mum set about educating the growing clan of small Fienneses. One imagines them acting out little plays and embarking on improvised art projects. Initially, he reckoned he might be a painter, and he spent time at Chelsea College of Arts. His star rose just before the arrival of Pierce Brosnan, and he was still in the frame when that actor was shuffled into the wings.

Fiennes has never seemed like the sort of fellow who would savour being backslapped in the high street. It was a great mad adventure.” He goes on to explain that his mother, then “a practising Catholic”, always liked to stress her Irish heritage and felt an affinity with life on this side of the Irish Sea. It seems unlikely that he would ever have found himself drifting into the City or embarking on a career as an accountant. “But, directing these films, I have loved drawing: as visual notation for shots and camera ideas. Fiennes seemed to be a contender for at least a decade. That noted, Fiennes’s touching, elegant offers us a glad-handing public figure who seems very different from the somewhat reserved, even shy persona that hangs around Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes. “I felt his warmth and I noted a few spots of recognition,” Fiennes says in a caterpillar-quiet half-stammer. There is a scene where he explains that he has this public thing, this ‘other me’. I understand that.” There has been a lot of work to escape into over the past few decades. A second marriage, to Francesca Annis, ended somewhat messily in 2006. Between turns as Voldemort in the series, he found time to play Hamlet, Mark Antony, Oedipus and a dozen other great roles on stage. It was impressive to see him being so determined and to see how courageous he is. “I think I told virtually nobody apart from my agent and my publicist,” he says. ’ They would be aggressively guessing, and I would smile and look back at them. “I liked the man that came off the pages of the screenplay. It is now more than 20 years since, after training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and serving time at the National Theatre, Fiennes broke above ground as the sadistic Nazi Amon Goeth in “It’s the people who want to make money who trip you up,” he says. We’re on to Byrne’s second replacement now, old fellow. It does sound as if, like Charles Dickens, he has an impressively unstoppable addiction for work. He said, ‘The work is who we are.’ And I agree with that. If you’re working in the theatre you have to be in for rehearsals at 10 o’clock. That’s fantastic.” A year and a half ago, at the end of Sam Mendes’s , we learned that, as many suspected, he was set to take over from Judi Dench as M in the Bond films. But I never explicitly told anybody.” It was an interesting piece of casting. When he refuses to sign a controversial bill into law, political chaos ensues: a constitutional crisis, street riots and a tank in front of Buckingham Palace.Set in the 1960s, the show follows Endeavour Morse in his early years as a police constable.In 2002, Fiennes and Miranda Richardson received several awards for their performances in David Cronenberg's award-winning thriller Spider.

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