John Madden was born in Portsmouth and educated at Clifton College and Cambridge. He began his career as Artistic Director of the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, moving later to the BBC to work in television and radio drama.
He moved to America in 1975 to develop radio drama with Earplay, the National Public Radio drama project. Winning the Prix Italia with Arthur Kopit's Wings, he subsequently directed the play for the stage at Yale, Broadway and the National Theatre in London. Further stage work included the premieres of Jules Feiffer's Grown Ups, Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, and Arnold Wesker's Caritas.
In 1984 he began to work extensively in film, directing for the BBC and for commercial television. His films included Poppyland, After the War - a series of films by Frederic Raphael, The Widowmaker, and several films in the Inspector Morse series.
He returned to America in 1990 to make his first feature film: Ethan Frome, starring Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette, followed by Golden Gate. The film was written by David Hwang and stars Matt Dillon and Joan Chen.
Prime Suspect-The Lost Child (1995) received a BAFTA nomination for Best Series and his BBC film Truth or Dare (1996) won the Scottish BAFTA for Best Single Drama. Mrs Brown (1997), starring Dame Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, received two Oscar and eight BAFTA nominations, including Best Film.
Shakespeare in Love (1998) stars Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Dame Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson. It has received three Golden Globe Awards, four BAFTA's and seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001) starred Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz.
John Madden also directed the Pulitzer Prize winning play Proof by David Auburn, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. He then directed the screen version of Proof (2005) with Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis. Killshot (2008) is based on Elmore Leonard’s novel and stars Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane.
He is currently in post-production on The Debt starring Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson.