Romola Sadie Garai (/ˈrɒmələ ˈsdi ˈɡæri/;[1] born 6 August 1982) is an English actress, writer, director. She is known for appearing in the films Amazing Grace, Atonement, and Glorious 39, and in BBC series such as Emma, The Hour and The Crimson Petal and the White. She has been nominated twice for a Golden Globe Award and is BAFTA nominated.

Early life

Garai was born in Hong Kong to British parents.[2][3] Her father's family were of Jewish background.[4] Her mother, Janet A. (née Brown), brought up Romola and her three siblings and her father, Adrian E. R. Garai, is a bank manager.[5][6] Her first name is the female version of the Italian name Romolo, from Romulus, one of the founders of Rome.[7] Romola is also the main character of George Eliot's novel of the same name.[8] Garai's great-grandfather, Bernhard "Bert" Garai, an immigrant from Hungary, founded the Keystone Press Agency,[9] a photographic agency and archive, in London, in the early 20th century.[10][11][12]

Garai is the third of four siblings.[13] She moved to Singapore at five, before her family returned to Wiltshire in England when she was eight. She attended an independent boarding school, Stonar School in Wiltshire, and later moved at sixteen to London to attend the City of London School for Girls, where she completed her A-levels. She was fond of drama and appeared in school plays, and also with the National Youth Theatre up until the age of eighteen, where she was spotted by an agent who signed her to play the younger version of Dame Judi Dench's character in the BBC Films/HBO co-production for television, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.[3]

After A-levels, she studied English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London, before transferring and graduating with a first class degree from the Open University.[14] She originally intended only to focus on her studies but later began acting full-time during the summer holiday.[3] She is a former model.[7]

Acting career


Garai's first professional acting role was in the 2000 BBC-HBO TV film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells,[15] where she played Judi Dench's character as a young woman. She then landed a part in the BBC 26-part television series Attachments (2000–2002).[15]

Garai's first major film role was in 2002's Nicholas Nickleby.[15] She played Kate Nickleby, a supporting role, in the well-reviewed film. The entire cast was widely recognised for their work and were awarded Best Ensemble by the National Board of Review. In 2003's I Capture the Castle, she played 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. She received glowing praise for her work. Her performance earned her a nomination for a Most Promising Newcomer award from the British Independent Film Awards.[16]

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) was Garai's biggest critical flop to date. Her performance received mixed reviews; many critics felt let down after her previous impressive turns.[citation needed] Later that same year, Vanity Fair was released, in which she played Amelia Sedley. Co-starring Reese Witherspoon, Jim Broadbent and James Purefoy, the film was based on the 19th century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray and it was directed by Mira Nair. The film received mixed reviews.

In 2005, Garai received another BIFA nomination, this time for their Best Supporting Actress award, for her performance as Siobhan in the independent film Inside I'm Dancing.[16] Her portrayal earned her the British Supporting Actress of the Year award from the London Film Critics Circle. Also in 2005, she starred in a two-part drama made for television, entitled The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant. While critics hailed it as "pleasingly old-fashioned adventure," it was her performance that won the most admiration and earned her two nominations: Best Lead Actress in Television from the Australian Film Institute and Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series from the Logie Awards. The Observer noted: "As for the tireless Garai, she once again demonstrated an instinctive understanding of the vital difference between overperforming and overacting."[citation needed]

She can be seen in Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of William Shakespeare's As You Like It (2006), as Celia. The film was released in some European cinemas before being broadcast in 2007 on HBO cable television in the U.S. In 2009, it opened in cinemas in Mexico.[17]

Also in 2006, she starred in the biographical drama film Amazing Grace, which was directed by Michael Apted and co-starring Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gambon. The film was about William Wilberforce, a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. Garai played Barbara Spooner, the wife of Wilberforce. The film received generally positive reviews.

In 2007, Garai starred as Angel Deverell in François Ozon's Angel. The Independent named her one of the actresses of the year for her performance in the film.[18] Garai was also nominated for the Prix Lumiere award[19] (the French equivalent of the Golden Globes), as Best Female Newcomer for Angel, making her the first British actress to be nominated for the award.

In 2007, she also starred in the Oscar-nominated film Atonement as the teenaged Briony Tallis. Co-starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave and Brenda Blethyn, the film went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Garai earned a Best Actress nomination from the Evening Standard British Film Awards for her performance.[20] She also appeared in two Royal Shakespeare Company productions: as Cordelia in King Lear and as Nina in The Seagull, starring alongside Ian McKellen, Frances Barber, Sylvester McCoy, Jonathan Hyde and William Gaunt. The run, which toured the world, went into residence in the New London Theatre where it ended mid-January 2008. She received rave reviews, especially as Nina in The Seagull, The Independent calling her a "woman on the edge of stardom,"[21] and This is London calling her "superlative", and stating that the play was "distinguished by the illuminating, psychological insights of Miss Garai's performance."[22] She reprised her role as Cordelia in a televised version of King Lear.

In 2008, she appeared in the feature film The Other Man alongside Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Antonio Banderas. Garai next starred in Stephen Poliakoff's Second World War thriller Glorious 39, alongside Julie Christie, Jenny Agutter, Bill Nighy, Christopher Lee and Eddie Redmayne.[23] The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.[24]

In 2009, she played the title role in a television adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, a four-hour miniseries that premiered on BBC One in October 2009, co-starring Jonny Lee Miller and Sir Michael Gambon.[25] Garai was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. Emma then appeared on American television as part of PBS' Masterpiece Classic anthology series, airing in most U.S. markets over three consecutive Sunday evenings during January and February 2010.

In 2009, The Sunday Times Magazine named her as one of Britain's rising stars[26] alongside Matthew Goode, Andrea Riseborough, Hugh Dancy, Eddie Redmayne and others. In January of that year she travelled to the Syrian-Iraqi border to make a short film titled No Man's Land for the UNHCR, highlighting the plight of 800 Palestinian refugees living in the Al-Tanaf refugee camp. Of her visit to the refugee camps Garai states, "My trip to a refugee camp in Syria destroyed any hope that the horrors of Iraq might end, or that we are doing enough to help its victims."[27] Garai has been hailed by her Glorious 39 director Stephen Poliakoff as "the next Kate Winslet" and someone who will "dominate British cinema" in the future.[28]


In 2011, Garai starred in the four-part BBC drama The Crimson Petal and the White based on the novel by Michel Faber. She was nominated for Best Actress at the 2012 BAFTA awards for the role.[citation needed] In 2011 she played Bel Rowley in the TV drama The Hour leading with Dominic West and Ben Whishaw for which she was Golden Globe nominated. Later that year she played the lead role of Becky in the stage play The Village Bike at the Royal Court for which she was critically lauded. The Hour ran for two series.

Garai starred alongside actress Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in Lone Scherfig's One Day.[29] She also played the part of a drug addicted single mother in the independent British film Junkhearts with Eddie Marsan and Tom Sturridge.[30] And in the sci-fi film The Last Days on Mars. In 2015 she played Isabella in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic with the her performance described as 'astonishing', 'wonderfully impassioned' and 'thrilling'.That same year she had a supporting role in Suffragette written by The Hour scribe Abi Morgan and a leading role in the 90 minute drama Churchill's Secret opposite Michael Gambon and Lyndsey Duncan for ITV.

Garai's recent Radio Drama work for BBC Radio 4 includes The Stone Tape adapted by Peter Strickland, and the lead in the 9-part thriller TRACKS by Matthew Broughton.

Future work

In early 2015 Dutch director Sacha Polak revealed that she had cast Garai as Vita Sackville-West in her upcoming film Vita and Virginia about the love affair between Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf.[31]

Other work

Garai is an occasional contributor to the newspaper The Guardian.[32]

In 2012 she wrote and directed the short film Scrubber.[33] Casting Amanda Hale, Michelle Duncan, Honor Kneafsey and Steven Robertson.The film played at Edinburgh Film Festival where it was nominated for Best British Short Film, Sundance film festival where it was nominated for Best International Short Film, London Short Film Festival where it won the Underwire Award for Best Female Character and Cannes where it screened in the Short Film Corner. The film was released as part of a short film collection, The Joy of Six, a Soda Pictures Release.

Personal life

Garai's great-grandfather emigrated from Budapest to New York in the 1910s with his English-born wife, then moved to London, where he founded the Keystone Press Agency.[34][35] Most of her Hungarian Jewish relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Garai has mentioned that she has "not yet" been to Hungary and feels modern, cosmopolitan and British.[15] She lives in London and in 2009 finished her degree in English Literature with the Open University.[36]

Garai guards her private life, saying, "It's too simplistic to say that people start to believe what's written about them. But what happens is that you become a certain way to please people, to be liked, to be what's expected of you, to change yourself so that you become the best possible version of yourself for people who don't know you. And I think that's a terrible, pernicious thing."[37] She adds, "In a way, I'd rather go into an interview and be disliked, and have unpleasant things written about me, than to have a wonderful, glowing article written that is in no way a reflection of who I am."[37]

Garai enjoys travelling and cooking in her spare time, calling it "therapeutic"[38] in many ways. She has visited Hong Kong, Malaysia, Italy, Austria, Morocco, Switzerland and the United States, "To be the outsider for a period of time changes you for the better. It shakes up your comfort level. You have to really make an effort to enter into other people's culture and psychology and language, which the British are very bad at doing."[38]

In November 2012, Garai announced she was expecting her first child with her boyfriend, British actor Sam Hoare.[39] In March 2013, she gave birth to a daughter[40] and they married the following year.[41]

Garai identifies as a feminist and has been open about critiquing the film industry for its attitude towards women.[42]


Year Film Role Notes
2000 The Last of the Blonde Bombshells Young Elizabeth TV film
Attachments Zoe Atkins TV Series
2001 Perfect Charlotte TV film
2002 Daniel Deronda Gwendolen Harleth BBC TV Series
Nicholas Nickleby Kate Nickleby National Board of Review – Best Acting by an Ensemble
2003 I Capture the Castle Cassandra Mortmain Nominated — ALFS Award for British Newcomer of the Year
Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer
2004 Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights Katey Miller
Vanity Fair Amelia Sedley Film
Inside I'm Dancing Siobhan ALFS Award for British Supporting Actress of the Year
Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress
2005 Midsummer Dream Helena voice (English version)
The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant Mary Bryant TV mini-series
2006 Renaissance Ilona Tasuiev voice
Scoop Vivian
As You Like It Celia
Amazing Grace Barbara Spooner
2007 Angel Angel Deverell Nominated — Prix Lumiere for Best Female Newcomer
Running for River Blair short
Atonement Briony Tallis – Aged 18 Nominated — Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress
2008 The Other Man Abigail
Great Performances Cordelia TV Series (1 episode: "King Lear")
2009 Glorious 39 Anne Keyes
Emma Emma Woodhouse TV mini-series (4 episodes)
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
2011 The Crimson Petal and the White Sugar TV mini-series (4 episodes)
Nominated — BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress
Junkhearts Christine
One Day Sylvie
The Hour Bel Rowley TV series (12 episodes: 2011-2012)
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated — Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries
2012 Whitelands Jen short
2013 Having You Camilla
The Last Days on Mars Rebecca Lane
Legacy Anna March A BBC drama set in 1974 based on the Cold War thriller by Alan Judd.
2015 Suffragette Alice Haughton
Dominion Caitlin Thomas Filming
2016 Churchill's Secret Nurse Millie Appleway TV film


  1. ^ See: Garai, Romola; Mustafa Khalili (20 March 2009). "'For these refugees, resettlement is the only option'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Romola Garai Interview with Premiere France". Premiere France. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  3. ^ a b c Jack Foley (2003). "I Capture The Castle – Romola Garai Q&A". Indie London. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  4. ^ Romola Garai: no wallflower Debbie McQuoid, Stylist: "My dad’s family were from an immigrant background, they were Jewish."
  5. ^ "Petticoat tales". Herald Scotland. 17 March 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  6. ^ "Romola Garai interview: feminism and the 1950s". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 July 2011. 
  7. ^ a b McLean, Craig (10 October 2004). "Romola Garai: Dancing Queen". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Romola Garai: no wallflower Debbie McQuoid, Stylist
  10. ^ Lewis, Tim (November 2004). "Fifteen Stupid Questions for Romola Garai". British Esquire. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  11. ^ Duerden, Nick (15 March 2007). "Romola Garai: A woman on the edge of stardom". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  12. ^ "Keystone Press Agency, Ltd.". Archived from the original on 19 November 2011. 
  13. ^ Molony, Julia (22 November 2009). "Romola gets the balance right". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  14. ^ "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of the actor Romola Garai". The Independent. London. 25 March 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c d Lakhani, Nina (15 November 2009). "Romola Garai: An actor's life for me – at least for now". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  16. ^ a b "Romola Garai: BIFA Nominations". The British Independent Film Awards. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  17. ^ "As You Like It (2006) – Release dates". IMDb. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  18. ^ Romney, Jonathan (28 December 2008). "Film in 2008: Who was top of the heap? A talking tin can". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  19. ^ Hayhurst, David (18 December 2007). "French quartet vie for Prix Lumieres". Variety. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  20. ^ "Keira Knightley – Atonement leads Evening Standard British Film Awards". 21 January 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2009. Knightley goes up against her co-star Romola Garai for the Best Actress award... 
  21. ^ Duerden, Nick (15 March 2007). "Romola Garai: A woman on the edge of stardom". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  22. ^ de Jongh, Nicholas (28 November 2007). "The fall of a high-flying bird". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  23. ^ Poliakoff, Stephen (15 November 2009). "Romola Garai stars in Glorious 39". The Times. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  24. ^ Punter, Jennie (23 July 2009). "Toronto adds to Special Presentations". Variety. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  25. ^ Singh, Anita (4 April 2009). "Romola Garai to play Emma in BBC's latest Jane Austen adaptation". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  26. ^ Hamilton, Fiona (25 January 2009). "Britain's got talent". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  27. ^ Garai, Romola (20 March 2009). "No man's land". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  28. ^ "Poliakoff returns to the big screen". WalesOnline. 24 November 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  29. ^ "Romola Garai Joining One Day". 21 May 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 
  30. ^ Junkhearts
  31. ^ McNabb, Geoffrey. "Polak reveals Vita and Virginia details". Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  32. ^ Garai, Romola. "Romola Garai". Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  33. ^ "Short Stories". Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  34. ^ Smith, Aidan (23 November 2009). "Interview: Romola Garai, actress". Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  35. ^ The man from Keystone – Bernhard Garai – Google Books. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 
  36. ^ Preston, John (10 August 2008). "Romola Garai: on a roll". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  37. ^ a b Hawker, Philippa (17 November 2007). "Where angels fear not". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 15 November 2009. 
  38. ^ a b Cohen, Scott Lyle (March 2004). "Romola Garai: her personal history reads like a Jane Austen novel. Now she's taking her adventures to Hollywood". Interview. Retrieved 15 November 2009. [dead link]
  39. ^ Kay, Richard (16 October 2012). "Sam Hoare's girlfriend Romola Garai announces pregnancy as he completes film on infertility". Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  40. ^ "Daughter for Romola Garai and Sam Hoare". 
  41. ^ Walker, Tim (24 July 2014). "Romola Garai 'secretly' weds Sam Hoare". The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  42. ^ Child, Ben. "Romola Garai: 'Sets without childcare are stymying women's careers'". Retrieved 19 December 2015.