Dame Helen Mirren has been on commanding form in recent years with a snarky turn as real-life gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in Trumbo, and techno thriller Eye In The Sky (above) about the moral complications of drone warfare. A good time then to take a look back at the career of the actress born Helen Mironoff in Hammersmith in 1945.
The regal best
Her Maj: Considering Mirren was brought up in a "very anti-monarchist" household (with a Russian émigré father and a mother descended from Queen Victoria’s butcher), it’s ironic that she achieved the so-called Triple Crown of Acting (an Oscar, Tony and Emmy) by playing royal.
Mirren got her Oscar in 2007 for The Queen, her Tony for The Audience in 2015 and her Emmy for Prime Suspect 10 years earlier. She also picked up best actress at Cannes for playing Queen Charlotte in The Madness Of King George. And she’s the only actress to have portrayed both Queen Elizabeths on screen, doing the 16th century one in an HBO mini-series opposite Jeremy Irons.
Unabashed nudity: Mirren has never been shy of shedding her clothes and was once named nudist of the year. Impressively, she’s managed to completely avoid Carry On style crudité and has always demonstrated a self-assured sensuality all her own.
After stripping off for everything from Excalibur (where she date-rapes her own brother) to Calendar Girls (where she poses nude to raise money for leukaemia research), she decided in 2015 at the age of 70 to retire from screen nudity saying: “my pleasure pillows are purely for my husband.” For those crushed by this news, we recommend renting Peter Greenaway’s bubbling casserole of eroticism: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover. Here's a clean bit below, click here for the dirty follow-up.
Shakespeare: Mirren began her career at the age of 18 playing Cleopatra at the Old Vic and in 1967 became part of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She’s since played all the major female roles and a few of the males ones too, notably Prospera in Julie Taymor’s reimagining of The Tempest. Her big screen break was also Shakespearean, playing Hermia in Peter Hall’s 1968 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Prime Suspect: Mirren became a household name in the 90s thanks to this long-running London-set crime drama written by Lynda La Plante. What made it different was that Mirren’s detective Jane Tennison had to contend with both criminals and the sexism rampant in the male dominated world of law enforcement. Both a cracking drama and a game changer.
The best of the rest: From a long litany of juicy smaller roles, it’s worth spotlighting the complexity she brought to the gangster’s moll Victoria opposite Bob Hoskins's Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (see below); and also her dangerously repressed housekeeper Mrs. Wilson in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. For the latter she manged to stand out from the all-star cast to nab an Oscar nomination.
And then there’s the less great work and even though she’s a dame now, we aren’t going to let her off the hook for these crimes and misdemeanours against cinema…
The dirty worst
Caligula: With a bit of spin even the stinkers sound quite fun: Mirren described this notorious filth-fest cooked up by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione as "an irresistible mix of art and genitals". Few people would question the latter, but there really isn’t much of the former on show, with all the unfortunate luvvies who signed up (including John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole) made to look like they were being filmed in cringe-o-rama.
Red And Red 2: To make one lame brain action film with Bruce Willis may be regarded as misfortune, to return for the sequel looks like you have a careless agent. We sincerely hope they stop this clunking franchise here and don’t complete the One Colour Trilogy with Red 3: Redderer Than Everer.
Encouraging Russell Brand: If there was one thing worse than watching the Essex Jesus trying to act in the dire remake of Arthur or the slow destruction of will and wit that is The Tempest, it was watching Mirren having to stand alongside and play Brand’s straightwoman. Check out the clip below where Brand emoting resembles a man having a stroke while soiling himself (around the minute mark). Helen please, don’t listen to him if he starts talking about a remake of Caligula — it’s not a good idea.
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