Born in Brighton, in East Sussex, England, she was raised with her two sisters in nearby Hove by her father, a taxicab driver, and her mother. At eight, she displayed an exceptional talent for singing, and was twice named the under-18 soprano champion of Sussex. After hearing about the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, she convinced her parents to let her leave school at 15 and commute to London to learn acting. There, she met famed choreographer Arlene Phillips, who attempted to convince her to join her popular dance troupe, Hot Gossip, but Manville instead turned her focus to improvisation. Soon after, she landed her first stage role in the musical "Albert," under the direction of John Schlesinger. At 16, she became a television presenter for children's programming on Westward Television before landing a recurring role on the popular soap opera, "Emmerdale" (ITV, 1972-). More television followed, including the gritty children's crime series "King Cinder" (BBC1, 1977), as well as stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company.In 1979, she met director Mike Leigh, who was in search of actors with improvisational experience. Their first meeting did not go smoothly, and Leigh brought her into his troupe with some reservation. But after beginning work on their first screen collaboration, as a chilly upper class woman in 1988's "High Hopes," he witnessed her full range of talent, and made her a key player in many of his most significant films. She soon graduated from supporting roles as playwright W.S. Gilbert's wife Lucy in "Topsy-Turvy" (2000) to the female lead in "All or Nothing" (2002), a serio-comic look at three working class families in London. In the film, Manville showed enormous compassion and range as Penny, a supermarket cashier whose marriage to taxi driver Phil (Timothy Spall) has lost its joy. She then played the upper class mother of a woman (Sally Hawkins) who procured an illegal abortion after being raped in "Vera Drake" (2004). In 2010, she returned to lead roles in Leigh's "Another Year," his critically acclaimed drama about a couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who serve as the hub for a circle of desperately unhappy friends, including Manville's Mary, a colleague of Sheen's who drinks to keep the sadness of her solitary life at bay. For her heartbreaking work in the film, Manville won the National Board of Review's Best Actress Award, and received nominations from the British Independent Film and European Film Awards.During her collaborative years with Leigh, Manville enjoyed occasional supporting roles in other British films, most notably Haneif Kureshi's "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" (1987) and "Sparkle" (2009). But television and stage remained her regular showcases. The former included 1988's "The Firm" (BBC), a harrowing story with Gary Oldman as a real estate agent whose weekends were devoted to football hooliganism. Manville, who played his wife in the film, later married Oldman, though the couple split shortly after the birth of their son in 1989. In 2001, she received a Royal Television Society Award nomination as a bitter divorcee in "Other People's Children" (BBC1, 2000). She also appeared as Mrs. Micawber to Michael Richards' Mr. Micawber in a 2000 production of "David Copperfield" for TNT, and as Margaret Thatcher in "The Queen" (Channel 4, 2009), a five-part documentary about Elizabeth II. On stage, she received stellar notices for Nicholas Hynter's production of "His Dark Materials" (2005) and the theatrical version of Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother" at the Old Vic in 2007.