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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anne Billson

Saoirse Ronan’s 10 best performances – ranked!

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, 2017.
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, 2017. Photograph: Iac Films/Allstar

10. I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

Pre-teen Ronan seems almost shockingly girlish now, but already commands attention as Michelle Pfeiffer’s precocious daughter in her film debut. Amy Heckerling’s underrated romcom is sheer wish fulfilment for older women like me, with Pfeiffer’s fortysomething career woman getting it on with goofy younger guy Paul Rudd.

9. Ammonite (2020)

Kate Winslet plays palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose fossil-digging on the beach at Lyme Regis becomes less solitary after she is obliged to look after a rich gent’s sickly wife (Ronan), who pierces her austere shell. The two of them end up having hot sex, with Ronan looking equally at home in a 19th-century bonnet and between the sheets with her co-star.

Ronan in See How They Run, 2002.
Ronan in See How They Run, 2002. Photograph: Parisa Taghizadeh/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/20th Century Studios

8. See How They Run (2022)

Ronan’s charming performance as an overimpulsive policewoman makes up for most of the shortcomings of this comedy whodunit set in a 1950s theatre world celebrating 100 performances of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. The Queen of Crime herself would surely have plugged the sloppy plot, but Ronan is such a delight it leaves you longing to see her tackle a well-written farce.

7. Atonement (2007)

Twelve-year-old Ronan’s breakthrough performance is the best thing about this self-consciously literary adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, a sort of postmodern The Go-Between, in which young Briony’s naive misreading of an adult situation in a 1930s country house has disastrous consequences for her older sister and the housekeeper’s son. It earned the young actor the first of four Oscar nominations.

6. Byzantium (2012)

Ronan underwent an intensive 12-week piano course so she could play Beethoven’s Sonata No 3 in Neil Jordan’s yarn about mother-daughter vampires hiding out in present-day Hastings. She is eerily convincing as a 16-going-on-200-year-old who provides a sort of assisted suicide service to the old and infirm, and falls for a terminally ill waiter.

Hanna, 2011.
Hanna, 2011. Photograph: Jasin Boland/Focus Features/Allstar

5. Hanna (2011)

Ronan reunites with Atonement director Joe Wright for this slick action thriller with fairytale trimmings, about a teenager whose father (Eric Bana) has home-schooled her as a super-assassin to wreak vengeance on rogue CIA agent Cate Blanchett. Their cat-and-mouse game hops from Finland to Morocco to Germany, with Ronan carrying the film so effortlessly it almost makes up for Blanchett’s tone-deaf performance.

4. Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig’s solo directing debut is a fleet-footed, coming-of-age comedy powered by a superb double-act: Ronan as a high-schooler grappling with teenage sex and the college applications she hopes will help her escape from Sacramento, and Laurie Metcalf as her mother, who wants her to stay local. Both actors were rewarded with Oscar nominations.

With Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014.
With Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014.
Photograph: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Allstar

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Ronan, with photogenic facial birthmark and using her own Irish accent in a film for the first time, slots easily into the ensemble cast of Wes Anderson’s action-packed historical farce as Agatha the baker, the lobby boy’s romantic interest. As a pivotal part of the plot, she also shows us how to make a courtesan au chocolat.

2. Little Women (2019)

Gerwig’s second solo directing credit puts an unobtrusively feminist spin on Louisa May Alcott’s much-filmed classic about the four March sisters growing up in Massachusetts circa the American civil war. Astutely juggled chronology stops the familiar story feeling too déjà vu, and it’s hard not to empathise with Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie, since it’s impossible not to fall in love with Ronan as Jo, collecting yet another of her Oscar nominations.

Sublime … in Brooklyn, 2015.
Sublime … in Brooklyn, 2015. Photograph: Kerry Brown/AP

1. Brooklyn (2015)

It’s surely only a matter of time before Ronan wins that Oscar. Another of her nominations was for this sublime performance as an Irish immigrant torn between her traditional upbringing in 1950s County Wexford, and a new life as an immigrant in New York City, with eligible men waiting for her on both sides of the Atlantic. Nick Hornby adapts Colm Tóibín’s novel as an old-school period drama infused with a delicate modern touch – the result is captivating, funny and heartwarming.

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