Samantha Morton

Few young British actresses of her generation have attracted so much critical acclaim for a first leading role as Samantha Morton. When “Under the Skin” preemed at the Edinburgh festival in August 1997, the jury was unanimous in awarding Carine Adler’s searing sexual odyssey the prestigious Michael Powell Award for best new British feature.

— and agreed that Morton’s powerhouse performance was part and parcel of the pic’s success.

Though the low-budget, $1 million movie, both in the U.K. and the U.S., has been more a succes d’estime than a B.O. hit, it already has sent Morton into a media-shy tailspin. When she appeared in a leading role in the BBC’s much-hyped miniseries “Tom Jones” earlier this year, Morton was remarkable for her absence from the publicity hustings.

Still only 20, she already had a solid small-screen track record behind her prior to “Under the Skin,” as a young prostitute in the second series of Granada TV’s “Band of Gold,” as Harriet Smith in Jane Austen’s “Emma” and the title role in “Jane Eyre,” both for London Weekend Television, plus roles in some half-dozen TV series.

As Iris, a Liverpudlian girl who tries to exorcise the trauma of her mother’s death through erotic fantasies and increasingly wild sexual escapades, Morton demonstrated in “Under the Skin” a range far beyond the strong but buttoned-up heroines of her TV costumers. It’s the kind of role that may not come her way too often, though she’s already shown further smarts in another contemporary part, as a victimized young woman in Mary McGuckian’s Northern Ireland-set drama “This Is the Sea,” so far little-seen outside the fest circuit.

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