She is the niece of renowned British actor Christopher Lee, as the daughter of his elder sister Xandra Lee. She was educated at the Cranbourne Chase School. After training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, she gained early experience with the Joint Stock touring theatre company, Paines Plough touring, and the Duke's Playhouse, Lancaster. Her partner, until his death in 2004, was actor Peter Blythe.
She has worked many times throughout her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in productions including Nicholas Nickleby (1980), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981), All's Well That Ends Well (1981), The Castle (1985), Three Sisters (1988), The Duchess of Malfi (1989), Macbeth (1999), and Much Ado about Nothing (2002).
She was made an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987. Other theatre work includes Three Birds Alighting on a Field (1991), Arcadia (1993), Hedda Gabler (1996), Ivanov (1997), and Mary Stuart (2005). Her films include Sense and Sensibility (1996), Bedrooms and Hallways (1998), Onegin (1999), Villa des Roses (2002), and Bright Young Things (2003).
On New Year's Eve 1999 she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her performance in Mary Stuart at the Donmar Warehouse transferred to Broadway, where it was nominated for numerous Tony Awards, including Best Actress nods for herself and her co-star Janet McTeer.