Julie Andrews’ 20 best film performances – ranked!

<span>Photograph: Disney Pictures/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Disney Pictures/REX/Shutterstock

20. A Fine Romance (1992)

Not every moment of Andrews’ career has been brilliant. Ronald Harwood co-wrote this hypnotically shoddy romcom starring Marcello Mastroianni as Cesareo, an Italian, living in Paris, whose much-younger wife is having an affair with the spouse of uptight Briton, Pamela (Andrews). When the cuckolds get together, sparks fly – in one highlight, Cesareo swallows a glass of water containing Pamela’s contact lenses, then burps.

19. Hawaii (1966)

George Roy Hill’s epic, set in its titular location, looks stunning. Andrews is adequate as Jerusha, the pragmatic, open-minded wife of rigid Christian missionary, Abner (Max von Sydow), while real-life Polynesian Jocelyne LaGarde proves magnificent as the island’s canny but troubled ruler. If only humourless Abner wasn’t central to the plot. During the shark attack scene, you will want him to get eaten. Tragically, he survives.

18. That’s Life (1986)

Andrews made seven films with her second husband, Blake Edwards. This one stars the sublime Jack Lemmon as Harvey, architect and husband to singer Gillian (Andrews). She might have throat cancer; he’s worried he’s over the hill. The couple’s anxiety and ennui induce similar emotions in the viewer. What’s the point? When will it end?

17. Little Miss Marker (1980)

A remake of the Shirley Temple caper. In depression-era New York, Walter Matthau’s grouchy old bookie gets lumbered with a cute orphan who melts his heart. Andrews is Amanda, a down-on-her-luck posh dame who, when we first meet her, is dating mafia boss, Blackie (Tony Curtis). A movie about Amanda and Blackie’s dysfunctional relationship: now that would be worth watching. Still, the lo-fi opening credits (little tin vehicles juddering along a cardboard boulevard) are peachy.

16. Star! (1968)

In 1968, audiences were gaga for grungy romance (Bonnie and Clyde; The Graduate). Director Robert Wise, reuniting with Andrews after The Sound of Music, tried to cater to all tastes with a sumptuous, upbeat biopic about beloved English stage performer Gertrude Lawrence, featuring swearing, sexual liaisons and “edgy” mockumentary footage. Alas, even with Andrews literally leaping through flaming hoops, the best word to describe this Gertrude is gormless. What happened to Star? It flopped!

15. Darling Lili (1970)

Just like Star!, Edwards’ extravagantly elegant and interminable musical offers a supposedly risque protagonist (Andrews, playing Mata Hari-like German spy, Lili), whose all-singing, all-dancing prowess makes her irresistible to men (in this case, a zonked-looking Rock Hudson), as well as the general public. Even at the end, when Lili’s wholesome cover has been blown, punters can’t stop cheering. Life failed to imitate art.

14. Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

A hit when it was released, this wildly uneven spoof of the jazz age does, at least, allow Andrews, Carol Channing and Mary Tyler Moore to hoof it up. Ambitious, flapper heroine Millie (Andrews) keeps looking into the camera, eyes widening with a kind of conspiratorial pleasure – so far, so Fleabag. She is also the spitting image of Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird. All very modern. If only the dialogue weren’t so old-hat.

13. Torn Curtain (1966)

There are a couple of killer scenes in Hitchcock’s cold war thriller. Unfortunately, Andrews isn’t in either of them. Hitch wanted Eva Marie Saint to play loved-up-but-patriotic Sarah, who panics when her physicist fiancee (Paul Newman) apparently defects to East Berlin, yet was forced to cast Andrews because The Sound of Music had made her such a hot property. The director’s best female characters are as wayward and perverse as cats, his worst as friendly and straightforward as dogs. Sarah, though beautiful, is such a dog.

12. Despicable Me (2010)

Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin’s sly and wacky cartoon introduces us to (among others) a woman called Marlena Gru. Andrews, tapping into her dark side, breathes life into a matriarch cut from the same cloth as The Sopranos’ Livia. Marlena’s sprog tells her he wants to land on the moon. Her reply? “I’m afraid you are too late, son. Nasa isn’t sending the monkeys any more.”

11. The Tamarind Seed (1974)

A stylish, talky spy thriller that will frustrate Bond fans (no sex until the third act). Widowed Home Office assistant Judith (Andrews) is described by her boss as a “twice damaged little plum”. All eyes are on her as she finds herself attracted, in Barbados, to a Russian agent (Omar Sharif). Every single marriage, in this story, is stale or rancorous. The ending is reasonably happy but the vibe, in general, is impressively bleak.

10. Enchanted (2007)

Andrews narrates Disney’s live-action/animation hybrid and her contribution, though small, is deeply satisfying, delivering the line: “And so, they all lived happily ever after” in a way that sounds simultaneously knowing and sincere. Director Kevin Lima had to fight to get a relatively unknown Amy Adams as his lead, pitching that at the time of her casting as Mary Poppins, Andrews, too, was an unknown quantity (as far as film audiences were concerned). A sweet and smart fairytale with a great moral for Hollywood execs: don’t play it safe.

9. The Princess Diaries (2001)

When Anne Hathaway’s scruffy American schoolgirl Mia discovers she is a European princess, you know a makeover is on the cards. There’s no point complaining that Disney’s coming-of-age comedy is trash. The cast, including Andrews as Mia’s royal grandmother, and Sandra Oh as the flighty vice principal at her school, are such pros you will be happy to bin any qualms. This was a bona fide comeback for Andrews: surgery in 1997 had permanently scarred her vocal cords and left her needing grief therapy. As Queen Clarisse, Andrews may not sing, but seems totally comfortable in her own skin.

8. Shrek 2 (2004)

The success of The Princess Diaries got Andrews this gig as the voice of Shrek’s fragrant mother-in-law, Queen Lillian. Blake Edwards once joked, before he and Andrews had met, that the actor had “lilacs for pubic hairs” (she duly sent him a bouquet of them, triggering their romance) and Lillian definitely fits the “classy Briton” mould. That said, this royal, who kissed a frog and liked it, is a hoot. And the DreamWorks sequel itself, almost as good as the original, is a total joy.

7. 10 (1979)

In Blake Edwards’ era-defining, if somewhat patchy, sex comedy, Dudley Moore is all too believable as hero George; a middle-aged, average-looking, composer and pianist who is desperate to bed young beach goddess Jenny, played by an unexpectedly droll Bo Derek. In between, George quarrels with his smart, actor-singer girlfriend, Samantha (Andrews). Samantha is big on semantics. What people forget about 10: its standout scene involves a Roget’s Thesaurus.

6. S.O.B. (1981)

In Edwards’ savage meta-satire (inspired by the reaction to Darling Lili) Hollywood producer, Fred, wants his famous actor wife, Sally (Andrews), to subvert her pristine image and bare her “boobies”. Many elements of S.O.B. have aged badly, but Andrews is fabulous as the brittle, easy-to-manipulate Sally. When we finally get to see the character’s perky chest, the expression on Andrews’ face – the elation of a child who’s successfully completed their homework – is priceless.

5. Duet for One (1986)

Julie Andrews and Liam Neeson in a Duet for One.
Julie Andrews and Liam Neeson in a Duet for One. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Check out the chemistry between Andrews, as violinist Stephanie, and Liam Neeson in a drama (clearly inspired by the life of Jacqueline du Pré) about a feted musician who develops multiple sclerosis and discovers the therapeutic value of no-strings sex. You may be tempted to plug your ears as Rupert Everett pretends to be a Nigel Kennedy-like cockney. But keep the faith. Some shots capture the pure horror of Stephanie’s illness. Elsewhere the focus is on the nonsense that perfectly healthy women have to put up with from men.

4. Victor/Victoria (1982)

In Edwards’ award-winning musical comedy drama about Victoria (a singer in 1930s Paris who is forced to pretend she’s a female impersonator), Andrews’ comic timing is reliably delightful. The surprise is the space given to Robert Preston, sublime in a role that can’t be reduced to “gay best friend” (You and Me, a duet performed by the pair, is fiercely intimate). Poor James Garner, as Victoria’s macho love interest, can’t compete.

3. The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Released in the same year as Mary Poppins, this second world war screwball farce, written by Paddy Chayefsky, is anything but kid-friendly. Emily (Andrews; by turns larky and intense), is a tenderly promiscuous war widow who falls for US Navy official and “practising coward”, Charlie (Garner; on top form). Even today, the script’s sex positive stance and contempt for patriotic cant seems bold. Clunky title, cracking film.

2. The Sound of Music (1965)

Robert Wise’s musical is a kitsch fever dream and does a superb job of showing off Andrews’ range. An actor like Diana Rigg could have shone as Mary Poppins, but would have stunk it up as an impulsive, naive ex-nun. It’s a blast to watch Andrews nail the emotional stuff, as well as the songs. Listen to the passion in her voice as she sings the word “darling”, while serenading motherless von Trapp kid, Liesl, during Sixteen Going on Seventeen. The Sound of Music: an advert for found families.

1. Mary Poppins (1964)

Andrews’ very first film performance – who says that practice makes perfect? – made her a huge star and bagged her her first Oscar (picking up her Golden Globe a few weeks earlier, Andrews thanked Jack Warner for making it possible; Warner had passed her over for the stage-to-film transfer of My Fair Lady the previous year). What a commanding and strange character her supernatural Edwardian nanny is: a woman with a core of puritanical steel and a strong dollop of naughtiness (she even flirts with her own reflection). If it’s a crime to love yourself, this character needs locking up – yet Andrews keeps us on side from first to last.