But the British actor has actually been in the business since 2007, including in movies, television roles, and on stage. One of her earliest roles, in fact, was in four episodes of the popular series Doctor Who back in 2007. But some of her more recent roles rank among Mbatha-Raw’s best.
The 2020 British period drama movie might not rank among the best British hidden gem movies for fans of Downton Abbey, even though it fits, but it has a pretty good rating from critics, nonetheless. The movie stars Gemma Arterton as Alice, a reclusive writer in the ‘40s who reluctantly takes over the care of a young boy during the war. Mbatha-Raw plays Vera, a young woman Alice had fallen in love with while at university decades before.
Ironically, Vera broke up with Alice because she knew she wanted to have children one day. Back then, that would not have been possible in a lesbian relationship, which itself was taboo. With a big twist, Mbatha-Raw beautifully captures the essence of the character, a woman deeply in love with another, willing to do anything to help them stay together.
Debuting in 2018, Fast Color is a superhero drama that stars Mbatha-Raw as Ruth, a homeless woman who suffers from seizures that cause supernatural earthquakes. While Ruth tries to deal with her situation, she must also thwart attempts from a scientist trying to capture and study her condition.
The movie was praised, in large part, due to Mbatha-Raw’s performance, which critics say helped the movie “leap over uneven execution,” according to Rotten Tomatoes. It was an interesting role for Mbatha-Raw who has appeared in many dramatic films and shows but hadn’t really touched on the sci-fi genre at that time.
In good company with Minnie Driver, Machine Gun Kelly, and Danny Glover, Mbatha-Raw played the lead character Noni in Beyond the Lights, a 2014 romantic drama. The movie begins with a young Noni participating in talent competitions, pressured by her mother to succeed.
Playing the adult version of the character, now a hot new music artist in the present day, Mbatha-Raw demonstrates her tremendous range as a woman still feeling the same pressures her mother placed on her as a young child. So much so, in fact, that she is even driven to suicide. She is convincing as a woman trying to take control of her life and follow her passion on her own terms. The Hollywood Reporter called Mbatha-Raw’s performance “incandescent.” Most impressive is that she also sang all her own songs in the movie, according to Vulture.
In this 2013 movie, one of many notable British period dramas of the 2010s, Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Sir John Lindsay, an 18th-century British naval officer. In an important movie dealing with the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, Mbatha-Raw portrays a woman who was left on the sidelines only to rise above and prove her worth and equal status.
She was convincing as the strong-willed and well-educated young woman who, despite being the daughter of an enslaved woman, uses an inheritance from her father to spark positive change.
In the anthology series Black Mirror episode called “San Junipero,” which was released in 2016 in one of the best seasons of Black Mirror, Mbatha-Raw plays the lead, a woman named Kelly who has a passionate love affair with another woman named Yorkie back in the ‘80s. As she travels through time, fans are left guessing as to what is really going on.
The big twist, in the end, was typical for Black Mirror, but it was performances like Mbatha-Raw’s and the intense chemistry with Mackenzie Davis as Yorkie that really keeps viewers glued to their screens all the way until the emotional end.
This period drama is centered around the 1970 Miss World competition when a group of women formed the women’s liberation movement and disrupted the ceremony. Their issue was with the objectification of women, and despite their efforts, the broadcast continued.
Mbatha-Raw plays the eventual winner of the title, Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten, who beat out the expected favorite to win from Sweden. It was a tough role to take on, portraying a woman who dealt with pushback for her win, mainly due to her race as well as allegations about the country’s premiere being on the judging panel. It’s tough to take on the role of a real-life person, but Mbatha-Raw made it look easy.
Mbatha-Raw’s only voice role to make the list, she voices the character of Seladon in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a Netflix series produced alongside The Jim Henson Company and serving as a prequel to the 1982 film The Dark Crystal.
Set in a fictional world occupied by creatures known as Gelfling, eldest princess Seladon becomes an antagonistic figure but eventually joins the others in the resistance. This required a lot of nuances in the performance. As Seladon goes from refusing to see the truth of the villainous Skeksis to realizing the error of her ways and the people she was once loyal to, Mbatha-Raw captured her internal struggles and shift in mindset to become one of the heroes.
Another TV role, this show from 2016 aired for three seasons and employed an anthology format, which involved a long list of A-list actors in starring roles in each episode. Delivered in a compartmentalized fashion were various stories about love and relationships and the different forms they can take. Mbatha-Raw played the role of Sophie in season 1 and reprised this role for season 3, where she played an up-and-coming actor auditioning for roles, knowing that she may have to leave her past, and the people she loves, behind in order to succeed.
Mbatha-Raw may have drawn from her own experiences as a once struggling actor looking for that big break. In the second role, the show’s final episode, the story fast-forwards to a time when the TV show Sophie was on has been canceled and she is now second-guessing the decision she made to abandon her ex. It’s a lot of raw emotion and relatable stories for anyone trying to make it big in the entertainment business and learning about what they have to sacrifice to get there.
Mbatha-Raw has the distinction of being among the cast of Doctor Who one of the most recognizable and popular TV shows of this generation. Many actors have played the doctor on Doctor Who, whereas Mbatha-Raw played Tish Jones, who took on jobs in areas like public relations that were far beyond her capabilities. Unbeknownst to her, she was only hired in order to help draw out her sister Martha.
In the role, Mbatha-Raw had to play a woman who was lauded for being beautiful but had something to prove in making people believe she deserved the jobs she was given.
Among the many Disney+ original series centered around the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Loki has been one of the biggest successes. Mbatha-Raw plays the pivotal role of Ravonna Renslayer, the judge who sentenced a Loki variant to be pruned.
She had to play a tough woman who did what needed to be done but was also pining for her own freedom behind the scenes after working for eons with the TVA. She had to play the role of a stone-faced, serious, and precise person, but also someone who is completely controlled by the organization she works for, never deviating from the script. It showed Mbatha-Raw’s ability to portray not only all types of emotions but also a lack thereof.