Born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, the son of a Kenya-born physician and an English fashion model, Kingsley began his acting career on the stage, but moved to movies early. His first film, Fear Is The Key in 1972, was not a success, but he later found fame in the starring role of Mahatma Gandhi in the Academy Award winning Gandhi in 1982, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Kingsley has been able to avoid stereotyping by being cast in a variety of roles in such films as Turtle Diary, Maurice, Pascali's Island, Without a Clue (as Dr. Watson opposite Michael Caine's Sherlock Holmes), Bugsy (Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), Sneakers, Dave, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Schindler's List, Death and the Maiden, Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story and Sexy Beast (another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor).
He has also appeared frequently on television, his first role having been a bit part in Coronation Street.
He is married to Alexandra Christmann from Berlin and lives in Spelsbury, England.