With a few exceptions, the renaissance in Scottish film-making in the 1990s was a heavily male affair, both behind the camera and in front of it. Actors such as Ewan McGregor, Dougray Scott and Peter Mullan went on to become stars and in their wake came younger Scottish actors such as James McAvoy. But Scotland’s women have opened doors too and made work every bit as important and impressive – and not just in the 1990s, either. Here, then, are 10 of our favourite Scottish actors from the distaff side.

Kelly Macdonald

Glasgow-born, Macdonald’s first screen appearance – in fact her first acting role, period – came in Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s seminal 1996 film about Edinburgh drug addicts. She’s the one on the famous poster wearing a dress.

Any thoughts that Macdonald might fade back into obscurity have long been put to rest, however, thanks to her powerful performances in films as varied as Gosford Park (directed by the great American auteur Robert Altman), No Country For Old Men (a Coen Brothers thriller) and Brave, in which she voiced the character of Merida. Where the small screen is concerned her CV is equally marked by critical and commercial successes, among them Boardwalk Empire (she plays Margaret Thompson), recent BBC hit Giri/Haji (now streaming on Netflix), and the much-anticipated new series of Line Of Duty.

And let’s not forget Harry Potter: Macdonald plays Helena Ravenclaw in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part One.

Deborah Kerr

Born Deborah Trimmer in Glasgow’s Hillhead district in 1921 – Kerr was a family name on her father’s side – the actress is best-remembered for her starring role in 1953’s From Here To Eternity, playing opposite Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra.

The film also features one of the most famous (and most parodied) kisses in movie history: Kerr and Lancaster lying on a Hawaiian beach as the surf washes over them. Kerr won a Golden Globe for her performance in the musical The King And I but despite being nominated six times for the Best Actress Oscar she never won it.

That’s still a record. On this side of the Pond she’s best known for the intensity of her performances in 1961 horror masterpiece The Innocents (the best adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw you’re ever likely to see) and the equally torrid Black Narcissus, from 1947.

Shirley Henderson

Super-creepy in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, super-pathetic as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films and just plain super in everything else she does, Lochgelly-born Henderson is one of the unsung gems of the Scottish acting world. A regular in the films of Michael Winterbottom – she’s great in 24 Hour Party People and A Cock And Bull Story, but Wonderland is the stand-out – she’s also much admired by directors of American and European indies such as Sofia Coppola, Kelly Reichardt, Todd Solondz and Matteo Garrone. She’s even been in a Star Wars film – The Rise Of Skywalker, playing Babu Frik.

Gerda Stevenson

Actor, writer, poet, director, playwright, radio dramatist and musician – her sister is harpist Savourna Stevenson – Gerda Stevenson is one of Scotland’s most outstanding and respected stage actresses.

She founded acclaimed women’s theatre company Stellar Quines in 1993 and among her many standout stage roles are Phaedra in Edwin Morgan’s adaptation of Racine’s Phèdre at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh; Margaret Bennett in Cora Bissett’s Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story; and Lady Macbeth in the now-legendary production mounted by Richard Demarco on Inchcolm Island in 1989. Although too rarely seen on the small screen, Stevenson has featured in dramas such as Shetland, and despite having appeared in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart Scottish cinephiles will always name her greatest big screen as that of Greta Thorburn in Margaret Tait’s once lost (and now rehabilitated) 1992 masterpiece Blue Black Permanent.

Karen Gillan

Whovians will always have a soft spot for the Inverness-born actress thanks to her performance as Amy Pond, the feisty Scottish earthling playing opposite Matt Smith’s bow tie-wearing Time Lord in Doctor Who. Gillan played Pond for three years starting in 2010 then really hit the big time in 2014 when she was cast as Nebula in superhero movie Guardians Of The Galaxy.

She has since reprised the role in a Guardians sequel and in the Avengers pair Infinity War and Endgame (combined box office takings: $5 billion). A committed stage actress, Gillan has also branched out into writing and directing, helming several shorts and one feature, 2018’s The Party’s Just Beginning, a gritty drama set in Inverness and featuring Gillan herself alongside Paul Higgins, Matthew Bears and Siobhan Redmond.

Moira Shearer

The Dunfermline-born actress started out as a dancer, an appropriate artform given that her most famous screen performance came as doomed ballerina Victoria Page in Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes. That was her film debut but she followed it with roles in Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales Of Hoffmann, an adaptation of Offenbach’s famous opera, and, for MGM, A Story Of Three Loves, in which she played opposite James Mason and Agnes Moorhead.

She returned to the stage to dance in 1961’s Black Tights, playing Roxanne in a ballet adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac but it was the film she made the year before that which has since acquired the greatest cult status – Peeping Tom, directed by Michael Powell (at great cost of his reputation) and the story of a serial killer who films his victims as they die. A film about snuff movies before that term was even invented.

Tilda Swinton

One of the most feted and sought after actresses on the world stage, Swinton started her career working with British auteur Derek Jarman on films such as Carravaggio in the mid-1980s. More recently you could have found her working with everyone from Oscar winners (Wes Anderson, Bong Joon-ho) to the heavy-hitters of world cinema (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Luca Guadagnino, Bela Tarr) to newcomers such as the Safdie brothers, Joshua and Benjamin.

Renowned for her sharp intellect, boundless enthusiasm for experimentation and androgynous looks, she turns 60 this year but is as in demand as ever, jetting to and from projects from her home in Nairn. Honor Swinton Byrne, her daughter with artist, playwright and bona fide National Treasure John Byrne, is also now an actress herself: mother and daughter even performed together recently in Joanna Hogg’s award-winning film The Souvenir and, post-pandemic, will reprise their roles in The Souvenir Part II.

Laura Fraser

A television regular with a knack for cropping up in the most talked-about and water cooler-y of British dramas – see The Tribe, Lip Service, Casanova and The Missing – the Glasgow-born actress has a deep and impressive big screen CV as well, starting with roles in The Man In The Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio!) and working through films such as Vanilla Sky (Tom Cruise!) and A Knight’s Tale (Heath Ledger!).

Scottish film buffs will remember her as Joanne in Small Faces, Gillies MacKinnon’s 1996 drama about Glasgow gangs, and in Richard Jobson’s excellent 16 Years Of Alcohol, while for American audiences she’s Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, supplier of, er, raw materials to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in Breaking Bad, and a regular in that show’s spin-off, Better Call Saul.

Kate Dickie

Although for well over a decade now she’s been a mainstay of hard-hitting Scottish films – she stars in Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril, Scott Graham’s Shell, Morag McKinnon’s Donkeys and Jon Baird’s Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth – the East Kilbride-born actress is probably best known as sour-faced Lysa Arryn from all-conquering television behemoth Game Of Thrones.

Other notable film appearances which have taken her beyond her native shores include Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller Prometheus, Alice Lowe’s gleefully bloody black comedy Prevenge and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Michelle Gomez

Currently looking like she’s having the time of her acting life playing Madam Satan in Netflix favourite Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Gomez first came to small screen prominence in Annie Griffin’s Glasgow-set comedy The Book Group and followed that up with another cult comedy hit, Green Wing, in which she played opposite the likes of Olivia Colman, Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, to name just a few.

If she ever had an itch to appear in Doctor Who she has well and truly scratched it – she appeared as Missy, the female incarnation of The Master between 2014 and 2017 – and was nominated for a BAFTA for her efforts.

And let’s not forget her sterling theatre work, either: a regular in London’s West End, she also featured in the original Glasgow cast of Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre in the mid-1990s.