Best Sheridan Smith dramas: her biggest roles ranked

Sheridan Smith looking glam at The Brit Awards in 2021.
Sheridan Smith looking glam at The Brit Awards in 2021. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Already 2022 is turning into a bumper year for actor Sheridan Smith. The new year began with her powerful performance in BBC drama Four Lives, quickly followed by Channel 5's The Teacher and the much-anticipated ITV drama No Return

The Lincolnshire-born 40-year-old has clearly established herself as one of the most sought-after actors of the moment. She began her career in light-hearted roles in comedies like The Royle Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, but now she's firmly one of the shining lights of British drama. 

Here we rank her biggest dramatic hits on the small screen…

Sheridan Smith’s best dramas

Deciding what order to rank Sheridan's work has been a tough call. We've taken into consideration awards, critical and audience response plus a large slice of our own personal opinion. 

We hope you like our choices, we're sure you might put them in a different order or include others, Sheridan has played such a wide range of roles in a variety of productions everyone will have their favorites. But here's our list – enjoy!

1. 'Four Lives'

Sheridan Smith as Sarah Sak in 'Four Lives'.

Sheridan stars as Sarah Sak. (Image credit: BBC)

In January 2022 Sheridan starred in the hard-hitting BBC1 drama Four Lives. Based on a true story she played Sarah Sak, the mother of Anthony Walgate, who was the first victim of real-life serial killer Stephen Port.

Anthony was murdered in 2014 followed by three other young men. Port was sentenced to life in prison in November 2016 for killing Anthony, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor between June 2014 and September 2015 in London.

The three-part drama begins in happy times as fashion student Anthony, 23, celebrates his undergraduate fashion show at Middlesex University. His friends and family are all there to celebrate his success, he’s full of life and fun with so much to live for.  

But not long after that joyous evening, Anthony was found dead. Sarah rushes back from holiday after hearing the devastating news but soon discovers the police are disorganized and disinterested in investigating his death. The drama then focuses on the battle for justice from the victim's families. 

Rufus Jones, Jaime Winstone, Sheridan Smith and Robert Emms as families of Port's victims

Rufus Jones, Jaime Winstone, Sheridan Smith and Robert Emms star.  (Image credit: BBC)

This had to be our number one pick because it perfectly sums up to us why Sheridan is such an accomplished actor. As well as lightening up the screen with her warmth and authenticity, she can also portray the darkest of human emotions with clarity and depth like no one else. 

The reviews for Four Lives were terrific. The Telegraph gave it five stars and said: “Smith’s grief, as Sarah, is a complex thing. It unfolds over the three episodes: we see her bewildered, numb, angry, bereft. Her behavior does not always make her likable. Smith brings a humanity and a realness to the role that few other actresses could match.”

But the greatest compliment must come from the real Sarah Sak, who said in an interview with the Grimsby Telegraph: “Sheridan has done a brilliant job. I think she is the perfect person to play me. I wanted a gobby northern bird and not some posh actress to play me.”

2. 'Mrs Biggs'

Sheridan Smith and Daniel Mays in Mrs Biggs

The day Charmian and Ronnie met. (Image credit: ITV)

Sheridan's depiction of Charmian Biggs in 2012 was a turning point in her career. The five-part ITV drama told the story of the wife of one of the men who helped carry out the 1963 Great Train Robbery – Ronnie Biggs.

The role won her a Best Actress BAFTA and demonstrated to the world that she was no longer just playing for laughs. Over the course of five stylish episodes, Sheridan's Charmian grew from a naive young woman escaping from a cruel father, into a strong and resourceful woman fighting to keep her family together. 

Charmian wasn’t what many people expected her to be, something that attracted Sheridan to the role. She told The Guardian newspaper. 

"When I first heard the title of the drama, Mrs Biggs, I presumed Charmian would be a gangster's moll-type with an EastEnders accent. In fact, she was the daughter of a headmaster, an innocent girl from a nice, middle-class background. Her family disowned her when she married Ronnie."

Sheridan Smith wins a BAFTA for Mrs Biggs

The night Sheridan was awarded a BAFTA for her role of Charmian Biggs.  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The drama focused on Charmian and her love, loyalty and strength to keep her family together, regardless of the personal sacrifices she had to make. Which turned out to be the perfect role for Sheridan as she embodied the stoic dignity of this long-suffering woman.

She said in an interview with The Telegraph: “When I was sent the script I was gripped, and by the end, I was crying. I was just incredibly moved by what Charmian went through as a woman. She didn’t just stand by her man. She went on the run with him and sacrificed everything for Ronnie and her sons (they had three) because she didn’t want them to grow up without their father. 

"Even when she had to finally let Ronnie go – when he had settled in Rio and was having a child with another woman, she still didn’t fall apart. She went back to university and made the best of herself for the sake of her children.”

Charmian Biggs and Sheridan Smith

The real Charmian Biggs with Sheridan.  (Image credit: ITV)

Sheridan got to know the real Charmian for the role and the pair became great friends while filming in Australia. In an interview with The Telegraph she spoke about saying goodbye to the woman who inspired the drama.

“Charmian and I had a proper hug. And we had a proper cry, too. I got on the plane but I really didn’t want to leave her. I felt I was saying goodbye to a truly incredible and inspirational lady.”

3. 'Cilla'

Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Sheridan Smith gets ready to belt out a 1960s' classic as Cilla Black. (Image credit: ITV)

Winning her a National Television Award for Best Drama Performance, Sheridan’s portrayal of the iconic singer and presenter Cilla Black gave the nation chills. 

The three-part ITV series, written by Jeff Pope (who also penned Mrs Biggs) begins with a young Cilla rocking out in the crowd at the legendary Cavern Club in 1960s Liverpool. 

By day she’s working as a typist, the first in her family to be considered suitable for office work, says her mum (played by Melanie Hill) proudly. But Cilla isn’t planning on spending any longer than she has to in her dreary office job and has big dreams of stardom.

Sheridan expertly captures the ambitious young Cilla as she makes it big, perfecting her sense of fun and her natural performing style, but also her vulnerability and fears about navigating the music industry in the 1960s. 

Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Welcome to the Cavern Club! (Image credit: ITV)

TV critic Sam Wollaston in The Guardian was full of praise for Sheridan's work: "It’s one of those extraordinary performances, like Julie Walters as Mo Mowlam, when an actor does more than play a real character; she becomes her, to the extent that it’s hard for the viewer not to forget they’re not actually watching a young Cilla Black."

The writer of the biopic Jeff Pope also sang Sheridan's praises and revealed how hard she worked to perfect her Cilla singing voice. He told The Guardian newspaper,

"She went away and spent six months working on her voice, in between other jobs, and it was just … like everything else, she's just a complete natural. The single most interesting thing in watching her work is how instinctive it is."

4. 'The C Word'

Sheridan Smith as Lisa Lynch in The C-Word

Sheridan shaved her head and eyebrows for the emotional role.  (Image credit: BBC)

In 2015 Sheridan played Lisa Lynch in The C Word, a true story based on the book by journalist Lisa Lynch, which documents her battle against cancer, which she sadly lost on March 11, 2013.

Nominated for a BAFTA, Sheridan said about the role: “It was the most special job I have ever done and will ever do and that is because if her (Lisa Lynch).”

Lisa was just 28 when she was diagnosed, but her blog and then book, The C Word, became a huge hit as her humor and honesty shone through.

In an interview with The Mirror, Sheridan talked about how the role became hers: “Lisa got in touch with me and asked me to play her. I was on holiday and read the script by the pool. I cried buckets and said immediately I’d be honored.”

For the role the committed actor shaved her hair and plucked her eyebrows, saying at the time, “It’s just hair, it grows back. It’s the least I could do."

The reviews were hugely positive about Sheridan's powerful performance, with The Guardian saying: “The C-Word is very sad and very funny and very honest and – most of all – very human. Ace from Sheridan Smith, demonstrating – yet again – that right now there isn’t really anyone to touch her for turning words in a script into breathing, warm-blooded human life. For nailing it, basically."

5. 'The Moorside'

Sheridan Smith as Julie Bushby

Sheridan as Julie Bushby. (Image credit: ITV)

In 2017 Sheridan took on another role based on a real person when she played Julie Bushby, the fiercely loyal and determined friend of Karen Matthews. The drama recreated what happened when Karen reported her nine-year-old daughter, Shannon, missing from the Moorside Estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in 2008. 

The news hit the headlines on a local and national level as the community came together to hunt for Shannon. The local volunteer army was organised by Julie, who tirelessly fought for her friend’s little girl. 

Natalie Brown (SÎAN BROOKE), Julie Bushby (SHERIDAN SMITH), Karen Matthews (GEMMA WHELAN)

Sian Brooke, Sheridan Smith and Gemma Whelan star. (Image credit: ITV)

Karen was eventually sent to prison after it was discovered she had conspired to hide her daughter to claim the £50,000 reward money, which was obviously extremely difficult for the local community to accept, especially Julie, after her determined campaigning to find Shannon. But Sheridan made this complex and dark role her own.

A review in The Telegraph wrote: "The Moorside derived its stark power from stripped-back performances anchoring the story in reality. Wearing not an ounce of make-up on blanched, puffy cheeks, Smith exuded fiery faith in working-class bonds of loyalty in the face of society’s censure. Her searing intensity, a charismatic ability to pull focus, is what makes her a compelling presence in musical theatre: she seems to walk in her own spotlight."

6. 'The 7.39'

Sheridan Smith in The 7.39

All aboard the express train to romance! (Image credit: BBC)

This two-part BBC drama got the country talking in 2014 (and again when it was repeated in 2020) as Sheridan played health club manager Sally. On her daily commute to work, on the 7.39 train to London Waterloo, Sally meets Carl, a sales executive. 

Based on the novel by David Nicholls the pair become friends as their fun and flirty relationship eases the boredom of the daily commute. They look forward to their train chats and Carl even joins the gym where Sally works to spend more time with her. 

However, Carl is married to Maggie (Olivia Colman) and has been for the last 20 years with two teenage kids. Sally is also engaged to Ryan (Sean Mcguire). 

Neither is exactly unhappy in their lives and yet their deepening friendship makes them both question whether this is really as good as it gets?

As Sally, Sheridan was extremely likeable and shared great chemistry with David Morrissey who played Carl. Their romance was at times awkward but it felt very real and honest. The Guardian wrote in their review: "Morrissey and Smith gave wonderfully rounded performances; in turns, desperate, disappointed, skittish, compulsive and delusional.” 

While Sheridan revealed on her Instagram account that this was her sauciest role to date. 

7. 'Cleaning Up'

Sheridan Smith in Cleaning Up

Will this spin be a win? Sheridan as cleaner Sam Cook. (Image credit: ITV)

In 2019 Sheridan found herself on her knees trying to scrub a stain off the floor of an office as she immersed herself in the role of cleaner Sam Cook for ITV drama Cleaning Up.

Sheridan’s natural warmth shone through as Sam – a dedicated mum, trying to do her best for her two daughters Alice and Lily. She works hard but has a serious gambling problem. Every second she gets, whether at work, home, or waiting in traffic, she’s spinning the roulette wheel on her phone and racking up thousands in debt. 

But we also learn that Sam is clever. As 15-year-old Alice does her maths homework she asks her mum, “how do you work out the circumference of a circle again?”

“Come on you know this," replies Sam as he does Lily's hair. "You measure the width, to find the diameter and then you halve that to get the radius, so then you use that formula 2 π r," Doh! 

The cast of Cleaning Up

Sam really loves her cleaning job! (Image credit: ITV)

Broken and desperate she needs to make a change, which is when she overhears a stockbroker at work talk about insider trading and a gem of an idea begins to form.

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian wrote: “This is the kind of solid, well-made nonsense that is such a rare and precious joy. Indispensable to it are the actors, who throw themselves uncynically into it with their whole hearts. This is always Smith’s greatest gift, and here she is surrounded by a supporting cast doing likewise."

8. 'Black Work'

Sheridan Smith in Black Work

Sheridan as police officer Jo Gillespie. (Image credit: ITV)

Not long after her success in the emotional The C Word, Sheridan takes the role of police officer Jo Gillespie in this thrilling three-part drama for ITV.

Jo is another role that Sheridan embodies so well, she's a woman on the edge, battling against forces out of her control as she fights for what matters most to her. 

In the first episode, Jo discovers that her husband Ryan (Kenny Doughty) has been murdered. A fellow police officer, she also learns that for the last three years he was working undercover, known as black work. 

In a drama full of twists and turns, Jo takes on investigating the case herself, discovering she didn't really know her husband at all and questioning who, if anyone, she can trust.

The role saw her nominated for Best Drama Performance at the National Television Awards.

9. 'Gavin & Stacey'

At the beginning of her career, from 2008 to 2010, Sheridan played the role of Rudi, Smithy's (James Corden) little sister in the now iconic comedy Gavin & Stacey

And while we know Sheridan is a powerhouse of an actress, bringing so much heart and energy to every role that she plays, let's not forget she can also do this…! 

Joanne Lowles
Freelance writer and editor

Joanne Lowles has been writing about TV since 2002. After graduating from Cardiff University with a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, she worked for All About Soap magazine covering the ups and downs of life on the cobbles, the square and the Dales. 

Next came nearly 10 years at TV Times magazine as a writer and then deputy features editor. Here she spent many happy days interviewing the biggest names in entertainment and visiting the sets of some of our most popular shows including Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Strictly Come Dancing

With a love of nature and wildlife she’s also interviewed the leading experts in this area including David Attenborough, Chris Packham and Steve Backshall. She’s also travelled the world visiting Mongolia, Canada and South Africa to see how the best in the business make the most brilliant natural history documentaries. 

Freelance since 2013, she is now is a digital writer and editor for What to Watch, previews the best on the box for TV Times mag each week and loves being constantly surprised, entertained and informed by the amazing TV that she is lucky enough to watch.