From the early 1980s, her appearances in mainstream films decreased, though she held roles as Thetis in Wolfgang Petersen's historical epic Troy and in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (both 2004). She has continued to receive significant critical recognition for her work, including Oscar nominations for the independent films Afterglow (1997) and Away from Her (2007).
Christie was born on 14 April 1940 at Singlijan Tea Estate, Chabua, Assam, British India, the elder child of Rosemary (née Ramsden; 1912–1982), a Welsh painter, and Francis "Frank" St. John Christie (1904–1963). Her father ran the tea plantation where she was raised. She has a younger brother, Clive, and an older (now deceased) half-sister, June, from her father's relationship with an Indian woman, who worked as a tea picker on his plantation. Frank and Rosemary Christie separated when Julie was a child.
She was baptised in the Church of England and studied as a boarder at the independent Convent of Our Lady school in St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, after being expelled from another convent school for telling a risqué joke that reached a wider audience than originally anticipated. After being asked to leave the Convent of Our Lady as well, she later attended Wycombe Court School, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, during which time she lived with a foster mother from the age of six.
After her parents' divorce, Christie spent time with her mother in rural Wales. As a teenager at the all-girls' Wycombe Court School, she played "the Dauphin" in a production of Shaw's Saint Joan. She later studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Christie made her professional stage debut in 1957, and her first screen roles were on British television. Her earliest role to gain attention was in BBC serial A for Andromeda (1961). She was a contender for the role of Honey Rider in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, but producer Albert R. Broccoli reportedly thought her breasts were too small.
Christie appeared in two comedies for Independent Artists: Crooks Anonymous and The Fast Lady (both 1962). Her breakthrough role, however, was as Liz, the friend and would-be lover of the eponymous character played by Tom Courtenay in Billy Liar (1963), for which she received a BAFTA Award nomination. The director, John Schlesinger cast Christie only after another actress, Topsy Jane, had dropped out of the film. Christie appeared as Daisy Battles in Young Cassidy (1965), a biopic of Irish playwright Seán O'Casey, co-directed by Jack Cardiff and (uncredited) John Ford.
Her role as an amoral model in Darling (also 1965) led to Christie becoming known internationally. Directed by Schlesinger, and co-starring Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey, Christie had only been cast in the lead role after Schlesinger insisted, the studio having wanted Shirley MacLaine. She received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
In David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (also 1965), adapted from the epic/romance novel by Boris Pasternak, Christie's role as Lara Antipova became her best known. The film was a major box-office success. As of 2016, Doctor Zhivago is the 8th highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation. According to Life magazine, 1965 was "The Year of Julie Christie".
After dual roles in François Truffaut's adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 (1966), starring with Oskar Werner, she appeared as Thomas Hardy's heroine Bathsheba Everdene in Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd (1967). After moving to Los Angeles in 1967 ("I was there because of a lot of American boyfriends"), she appeared in the title role of Richard Lester's Petulia (1968), co-starring with George C. Scott.
Christie's persona as the swinging sixties British woman she had embodied in Billy Liar and Darling was further cemented by her appearance in the documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love in London. In 1967, Time magazine said of her: "What Julie Christie wears has more real impact on fashion than all the clothes of the ten best-dressed women combined".
In Joseph Losey's romantic drama The Go-Between (1971), Christie had a lead role along with Alan Bates. The film won the Grand Prix, then the main award at the Cannes Film Festival. She earned a second Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as a brothel madame in Robert Altman's postmodern western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (also 1971). The film marked the first of three collaborations between Christie and Warren Beatty, who described her as "the most beautiful and at the same time the most nervous person I had ever known". The couple had a high-profile but intermittent relationship between 1967 and 1974. After the relationship ended, they worked together again in the comedies Shampoo (1975) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).
Her other films during the decade were Nicolas Roeg's thriller Don't Look Now (1973), in which she co-starred with Donald Sutherland, and the science-fiction/horror film Demon Seed (1977), based on the novel of the same name by Dean Koontz and directed by Donald Cammell.
Christie returned to the United Kingdom in 1977, living on a farm in Wales. In 1979, she was a member of the jury at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival. Never a prolific actress, even at the height of her career, Christie turned down many high-caliber film roles, including Anne of the Thousand Days, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Reds, all of which earned Oscar nominations for the actresses who eventually played them.
In the 1980s, Christie appeared in non-mainstream films such as The Return of the Soldier (1982) and Heat and Dust (1983). She had a major supporting role in Sidney Lumet's Power (1986) alongside Richard Gere and Gene Hackman, but apart from that, she avoided large budget films. She starred in the television film Dadah Is Death (1988), based on the Barlow and Chambers execution, as Barlow's mother Barbara, who desperately fought to save her son from being hanged for drug trafficking in Malaysia.
After a lengthy absence from the screen, Christie co-starred in the fantasy adventure film Dragonheart (1996), and appeared as Gertrude in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (also 1996). Her next critically acclaimed role was the unhappy wife in Alan Rudolph's domestic comedy-drama Afterglow (1997) with Nick Nolte, Jonny Lee Miller and Lara Flynn Boyle. Christie received a third Oscar nomination for her role.
Christie made a brief cameo appearance in the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), playing Madam Rosmerta. Around the same time, she also appeared in two other high-profile films: Wolfgang Petersen's Troy and Marc Forster's Finding Neverland (both 2004), playing mother to Brad Pitt and Kate Winslet, respectively. The latter performance earned Christie a BAFTA nomination as supporting actress in film.
Christie portrayed the female lead in Away from Her (2006), a film about a long-married Canadian couple coping with the wife's Alzheimer's disease. Based on the Alice Munro short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain", the movie was the first feature film directed by Christie's sometime co-star, Canadian actress Sarah Polley. She took the role, she says, only because Polley is her friend. Polley has said Christie liked the script but initially turned it down as she was ambivalent about acting. It took several months of persuasion by Polley before Christie finally accepted the role.
In July 2006 she was a member of the jury at the 28th Moscow International Film Festival. Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2006 as part of the TIFF's Gala showcase, Away from Her drew rave reviews from the trade press, including The Hollywood Reporter, and the four Toronto dailies. Critics singled out her performances as well as that of her co-star, Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, and Polley's direction. Christie's performance generated Oscar buzz, leading the distributor, Lions Gate Entertainment, to buy the film at the festival to release the film in 2007 to build momentum during the awards season.
On 5 December 2007, she won the Best Actress Award from the National Board of Review for her performance in Away from Her. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role and the Genie Award for Best Actress for the same film. On 22 January 2008, Christie received her fourth Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role at the 80th Academy Awards. She appeared at the ceremony wearing a pin calling for the closure of the prison in Guantanamo Bay.
Christie narrated Uncontacted Tribes (2008), a short film for the British-based charity Survival International, featuring previously unseen footage of remote and endangered peoples. She has been a long-standing supporter of the charity, and in February 2008, was named as its first 'Ambassador'. She appeared in a segment of the film, New York, I Love You (also 2008), written by Anthony Minghella, directed by Shekhar Kapur and co-starring Shia LaBeouf, as well as in Glorious 39 (2009), about a British family at the start of World War II.
Christie played a "sexy, bohemian" version of the grandmother role in Catherine Hardwicke's gothic retelling of Red Riding Hood (2011). A later role Her most recent role was in the political thriller The Company You Keep (2012), where she co-starred with Robert Redford and Sam Elliott.
BAFTA's highest honour, the Fellowship was awarded to Christie in 1997.
In the early 1960s, Christie dated actor Terence Stamp. She was engaged to Don Bessant, a lithographer and art teacher, in 1965, before dating actor Warren Beatty for several years. She is married to The Guardian journalist Duncan Campbell; they have lived together since 1979, but the date they wed is disputed. In January 2008, several news outlets reported that the couple had quietly married in India two months earlier, in November 2007, which Christie called "nonsense", adding, "I have been married for a few years. Don't believe what you read in the papers."
In the late 1960s, her advisers adopted a very complex scheme in an attempt to reduce her tax liability, giving rise to the leading case of Black Nominees Ltd v Nicol (Inspector of Taxes). The case was heard by Templeman J (who later became Lord Templeman), who gave judgment in favour of the Inland Revenue, ruling that the scheme was ineffective.
She is also active in various causes, including animal rights, environmental protection, and the anti-nuclear power movement and is also a Patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as well as Reprieve, and CFS/ME charity Action for ME.