In Spotlight: Ben Whishaw’s best movies and TV shows, from Paddington and James Bond to This Is Going to Hurt

We look at award-winning actor Ben Whishaw's most memorable film and TV roles, as he's praised for his role as junior doctor Adam Kay in BBC comedy-drama This Is Going to Hurt.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 17 February 2022 - 10.50am
Danjaq/BBC Ben Whishaw in Skyfall, A Very English Scandal and This is Going to Hurt

Ben Whishaw is no stranger to our TV screens, and equally the award-winning actor is no stranger to rave reviews. 

His latest role, playing obstetric doctor Adam Kay in Kay's memoir of life on an NHS ward - This Is Going to Hurt - has seen him praised for his complex portrayal of a junior doctor trying to juggling long hospital shifts, difficult patients and needy colleagues with his squeezed personal life. 

"Whishaw’s performance is a superbly judged high-wire act," writes Boyd Hilton in his five-star Empire review of the seven-part BBC One drama. 

"His relentless sarcasm softened by an infusion of charm when dealing with patients, but curdling into something nastier, bordering on bullying, when 'mentoring' his new junior colleague."

Forty-one-year-old Whishaw has built an extensive stage and screen resume since early successes such as 2001's My Brother Tom, which earned him a British Independent Film Award, and an Olivier Award nomination in 2004 for his portrayal of Hamlet.

His on-screen career blends Shakespeare with independent films, blockbusters and family favourites, as well as leading roles in major TV series. We pick 10 films and series starring Whishaw that you can watch right now.

This Is Going to Hurt - Adam Kay

Ben Whishaw in This is Going to Hurt BBC

In his latest starring role, Whishaw plays junior doctor Adam Kay in an adaptation of Kay’s memoir of the stresses and strains of working in an NHS hospital in the mid-noughties.

The comedy-drama, currently airing on BBC One and on iPlayer, has been praised for its realistic portrayal of life on an NHS ward and for not shying away from the physical and emotional difficulties faced by even the most well-intentioned medics.

Ambika Mod, Alex Jennings, Michele Austin Ashley Maguire and Kadiff Kirwan also appear in the seven-episode series.

Watch This Is Going to Hurt on BBC One and iPlayer.

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Paddington 1 & 2 - Paddington

Ben Whishaw and Paddington Getty/AFP

You won’t see Whishaw in his only title roles but he leaves his paw-prints all over the two Paddington films as he gives the curious marmalade-loving bear his gentle voice.

Whishaw was drafted in to record Paddington’s voice after filming had been completed on the first movie. Colin Firth had voiced Paddington originally but dropped out when the studio decided his voice wasn’t suitable.

Whishaw made more of a physical contribution to the sequel as his slightest facial expressions were captured to help produce the CGI bear in the finished product. "I just see Paddington as me,” Whishaw said of the role.

A third Paddington movie starts filming later in 2022, and Whishaw also voiced the bear in the animated Adventures of Paddington series.

Watch Paddington on Netflix, Prime Video and Sky Cinema with a NOW Cinema Membership.

Watch Paddington 2 on Sky Cinema with a NOW Cinema Membership.

Watch The Adventures of Paddington, the animated series, on My5.

A Very English Scandal - Norman Scott

Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal BBC

Whishaw was reunited with Paddington 2 nemesis Hugh Grant in live action in 2018 BBC One drama A Very English Scandal.

The three-part series is a dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal of the late seventies, in which then Liberal Party leader Thorpe (played by Grant) was accused of conspiring to murder disgruntled ex-lover Norman Scott (Whishaw).

The absorbing series was a critical success, and Whishaw – who met Scott while preparing for the role - went on to win four awards for his performance, including Primetime Emmy, BAFTA and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.

Watch A Very English Scandal on BBC iPlayer.

The James Bond movies - Q

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall Danjaq

Whishaw’s most prominent film role to date is as Secret Service quartermaster Q in three of Daniel Craig’s 007 outings, Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die.

Whishaw followed in the footsteps of John Cleese and the legendary Desmond Llewellyn as the franchise’s gadget-master in 2012, making him the first Q to be younger than the 007 he is working with.

On taking the role, Whishaw said at the Skyfall premiere that the director and lead actor helped lift the weight of Bond history from his shoulders.  

“It doesn’t feel daunting. You have to forget there’s anything in the past about James Bond and give it your best, but I know what I’m part of. I wasn’t overwhelmed because Sam [Mendes] is such a brilliant director and Daniel is such a beautiful actor to work with that everyone was put at ease.”

“I’m not a gadget geek – they delivered the Omega watch you get when you’re in a James Bond film and I couldn’t even open the box!"

Watch Skyfall, Spectre and 007’s latest outing, No Time to Die, on BT Player.

The Hour - Freddie Lyon

Ben Whishaw in The Hour BBC

Whishaw played restless newsreel producer Freddie Lyon in star-studded 1950s BBC drama The Hour. At first overlooked for a leading role in the BBC’s current affair show The Hour, Freddie finds himself uncovering a spy scandal which might transform his career while putting him in mortal danger.

Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Pigott-Smith, Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Peter Capaldi all appear alongside Whishaw in two series of this award-winning period drama created by Abi Morgan.

Watch seasons 1 and 2 of The Hour on Prime Video.

Suffragette - Sonny Watts

Ben Whishaw in Suffragette Pathe Productions

The story of the fight for women’s suffrage was naturally a female-led film, but Whishaw was certainly one of the most prominent male actors, playing Sonny Watts, husband of Carey Mulligan’s protagonist Maud.

When Maud allies with the Suffragettes against the wishes of her husband, Sonny throws her out, but this only radicalises her further.

Whishaw hailed the “powerful” message of the 2015 film, while pointing out that work still needed to be done.

“From what my friends tell me, this struggle – although improved from 100 years ago – is still ongoing,” he told The Big Issue

“There is inequality. I have lots of female friends in the acting industry that feel hugely angry about the state of things.”

Watch Suffragette on Netflix.

Mary Poppins Returns - Michael Banks

Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw and Emily Blunt in Mary Popping Returns Walt Disney Studios

The long-awaited sequel to the 1964 family favourite took us back to the bosom of the Banks family 25 years after Julie Andrews’ practically perfect nanny floated up into the sky.

Children Jane and Michael had grown up but had fallen on hard times, only for Mary Poppins, now played by Emily Blunt, to bring fun back into the family home.

Whishaw played Michael, now a widowed father of three and a struggling artist under pressure from his bank to keep up the mortgage payments or face foreclosure.

Emily Mortimer plays Jane and Lin-Manuel Miranda is cockney lamplighter jack.

Watch Mary Poppins Returns on the BT Player.

Surge - Joseph

Trapped in a soulless job in airport security, anxious loner Joseph (Whishaw) runs out on his life and his parents and goes on a reckless rampage around London, at first breaking social norms and committing small transgressions before taking part in a crime that puts his freedom and life at risk.

Whishaw won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival for his role in Aneil Karia’s directorial film debut, which also stars Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder and Jasmine Jobson (Top Boy).

Watch Surge on Netflix.

Cloud Atlas - Robert Frobisher

Ben Whishaw in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Productions

This science-fiction epic written directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer is set across six different eras from 1849 to 2321. The principal actors play a different role in each era, with each section telling the story of a different main character.

Whishaw’s starring segment is set in 1936 Britain. He plays Robert Frobisher, a composer whose working arrangement with another composer, Vyvyan Ayrs, breaks down when Ayrs demands credit for one of Frobisher’s works.

Whishaw also appears in four other interwoven parts of the film, adapted from David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, alongside Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess.

Watch Cloud Atlas on Prime Video.

Little Joe - Chris

Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw in Little Joe The Bureau

Whishaw stars alongside Emily Beecham and Kerry Fox in this sci-fi drama about plant breeder Alice who creates a delicate flower – the Little Joe of the title - that will bring happiness to its owner.

When Chris (played by Whishaw) inhales some of Little Joe’s pollen, he attempts to kiss a reluctant Alice. Meanwhile, other people who have come into contact with the plant also begin to behave in unusual ways…

Little Joe is available to watch on iPlayer until 25 February 2022.