Last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was invited out for a dinner alongside fellow journalists and filmmakers from Britain. I was sat next to a young actress named Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who was in the Canadian city for the premiere of William McGregor’s Gwen, where she plays the eponymous lead role. I spent the first five or six minutes racking my brain – I hadn’t seen Gwen but I knew her face, I had definitely seen this actress in something before. When we started talking she mentioned her role in a recent Johnny Knoxville comedy and suddenly it came to me – she played the Jackass stars’s daughter in the endearingly asinine Action Point, a supporting lead role no less, and I’d only seen it one week prior.
Now either I’m slowly losing my mind, and becoming increasingly forgetful in my old age – or her performance as a meek American teen was so convincing, and so far removed from the bubbly Scouse actress I was sat next to, that I hadn’t put the two together. Given I was only 29 years old at the time, I’m going to opt – and hope – for the latter. But what a testament this was to this great young talent, and while Action Point is a film that wears its irreverence on its sleeve like a badge of honour, that doesn’t mean Worthington-Cox treated the role with any derision, and she turned in a subtle and nuanced display, and was so completely convincing with it. Clearly.
It was at this stage I realised I really ought to catch Gwen, and though the opportunity sadly didn’t arise out at TIFF, recently the time finally came, and it was in this dark and challenging piece of cinema where I realised that we truly are dealing with quite a special talent. Considering she’s now just 18 years old, it adds even greater magnitude to her stunning display when you take into account how old Worthington-Cox would’ve been when shooting the film, taking her mind to such profound places, as the role requires her to truly dig deep into her deepest and darkest emotions in order to bring a sense of realism to the role that McGregor has created.
Starring opposite Maxine Peake too, she couldn’t wish for better guidance, and this film just marks exactly the right sort of project for her at this stage in her career, as if there was any actress to strive to emulate, Peake would be right at the top of that list. In fact, with Gwen and Action Point she’s made a very clever decision to try her hand in two such different genres, showing off two such different skillsets which is vital for an actress of her age, to avoid being pigeonholed, which is something so many talented performers have unwittingly fallen into.
In effectively every scene, we don’t need to look further than Gwen to know she’s got what it takes, but even so if you don’t trust us, then you may be more inclined to listen to the several judges who have awarded her prizes across her markedly short-career to date. Let’s start with the most impressive: she won an Olivier Award back in 2012 for Best Actress in a Musical, for her performance as Matilda in the hit West End production. Then four years on, in 2016 she was nominated for a BAFTA for her supporting role in The Enfield Haunting. Not too shabby for someone who wasn’t even eligible to drive yet.
Naturally we now look to the future, which looks incredibly bright, and at this moment in time, very much built around Brittania, the TV series she has taken a starring role in, which is back on our screens for a second season shortly. But watch this space, here’s a young performer with bags of talent, and with the right guidance and the right roles, she’ll be a name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future. We wouldn’t be against her collaborating with McGregor again either, given how accomplished a debut feature Gwen was. Though saying that we wouldn’t wish for a sequel of that film on anybody, as compelling as it was, it wasn’t exactly laugh a minute.