White was born in England in 1960. She first became interested in films at 8 years old, when she visited the set of the BBC children's TV show Crackerjack, and asked her parents to buy her a Super-8 video camera. She read English at Oxford University, and then won a Fulbright scholarship to study film at UCLA.
After graduation, White spent 12 years making documentaries for BBC2. In 1999, she failed to win a place on a BBC training scheme and was turned down for a BBC drama director trainee course. In 2001, she was supported by BBC2 controller Jane Root, who eased her into drama with a £200,000 budget drama for BBC2, Love Again, about Philip Larkin. She won a BAFTA award for best drama serial for her work on the 2005 version of Bleak House. She directed the BBC mini-series Jane Eyre of which she was nominated for an Emmy award. She also directed four episodes of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, and all five episodes of the 2012 series Parade's End.