His parents, Nigel Davenport and Maria Aitken, are both successful British actors.
After graduating from university, he wrote to John Cleese, who co-starred with Davenport's mother in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Although he had been hoping to get behind-the-scenes work in Cleese's film Fierce Creatures (1997), he wound up with a small part in the movie.
Landed his breakthrough role as Miles Stewart in the British cult hit This Life after a lengthy process, which required him to audition for the role multiple times.
Performed in BBC radio broadcasts of A Clockwork Orange and The Cruel Sea.
Met his wife, Scottish actress Michelle Gomez, in a bar after seeing her perform several times in the stage production of Trainspotting.
Became known to American film audiences for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (as Commodore James Norrington) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (as Peter Smith-Kingsley).