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Getting to Know: Helen Mirren

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As Helen Mirren turns 77, Cinema Paradiso looks back over a career that is full of bold choices, artistic triumphs and commercial success. And it's far from over...

Helen Mirren is part of two exclusive clubs. In Britain, she shares the rare honour of having won the Laurence Olivier Award, as well as the BAFTAs for film and television acting with Judi Dench, Virginia McKenna, Peggy Ashcroft, Nigel Hawthorne, Albert Finney, Julie Walters and Mark Rylance. Stateside, she is one of a 24-strong group to have claimed Oscars, Tonys and Emmys, along with Helen Hayes, Thomas Mitchell, Ingrid Bergman, Shirley Booth, Melvyn Douglas, Paul Scofield, Jack Albertson, Rita Moreno, Maureen Stapleton, Jason Robards, Jessica Tandy, Jeremy Irons, Anne Bancroft, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino, Geoffrey Rush, Ellen Burstyn, Christopher Plummer, Frances McDormand, Jessica Lange, Viola Davis and Glenda Jackson.

However, Mirren is the only performer to have completed the Triple Crown on both sides of the Atlantic. Hayes and Moreno have also won Grammys to complete the EGOT swoop. But there's surely still time for Mirren to find herself a prize-worthy spoken word project!

From Russia With Love

Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironova was born on 26 July 1945 in Hammersmith. Her mother, Kathleen, was one of 14 children born to a West Ham butcher, whose father had purveyed meats to Queen Victoria. Father Vasily hailed from Smolensk Oblast in Imperial Russia, but had been raised in Britain after his father, Pyotr, had been stranded while on a diplomatic mission to London by the 1917 Revolution.

A veteran of the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, Pyotr followed in the footsteps of his ancestors, as his mother, Countess Lydia Kamenskaya, was a descendant of Count Mikhail Kamensky, a prominent general whose exploits during the 1812 campaign against Napoleon Bonaparte had earned him a mention in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (which is available to rent from Cinema Paradiso in four different adaptations). Cut off from the vast Kuryanov estate in Gzhatsk (which is now called Gagarin), Pyotr became a London cab driver in order to support his family.

Vasily also drove a taxi for a while, although he also worked as a tailor in the East End and participated in the Battle of Cable Street, which was recreated in Mosley (1998), Robert Knights's tele-biopic of British Union of Fascists leader, Sir Oswald Mosley. In the 1930s, Vasily played viola with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He married Kathleen in 1938 and they had three children, with Kate and Peter being born either side of Helen.

During the Blitz, Vasily served as an ambulance driver and later worked as a driving-test examiner before becoming a civil servant at the Ministry of Transport. At some point, he anglicised his name to Basil and, following his father's death, changed the family surname to Mirren by deed poll in 1951. Helen remembers Pyotr moving into their new house in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and, in pining for his lost legacy, complaining that Britain was 'a gray nation, largely ruled by gray people'.

Basil and Kathleen were less in thrall to the past, however, and were both atheist and anti-monarchist. According to Mirren, they were also bohemians who engendered 'a slightly us-and-them feeling'. Indeed, such was her mother's loathing of the class system that had failed her as a girl that she sent Kate and Helen for elocution lessons. Money was often tight, however, and the siblings had to make do with the radio rather than television, records and films.

A still from Goldfinger (1964)
A still from Goldfinger (1964)

Another form of diversion was the dinner table discussion and Mirren believes that these 'serious talks about life and art and the soul' helped forge her drive to seize the opportunities that came her way and make something of herself. They also fuelled her lively imagination, as she felt she'd been 'caught in the wrong time zone'. Hence, her family nickname of 'Popper', as she would 'pop off into dreams'.

It was while she was attending Hamlet Court Primary School in Westcliff-on-Sea that Mirren first found an outlet for her imagination, with the lead in a production of Hansel and Gretel. She also acted at St Bernard's High School For Girls in Southend-on-Sea, which was run by Catholic nuns who were even stricter than Mirren's parents. At 13, she saw an amateur production of Hamlet, which she found 'so exciting in comparison to walking to the launderette for the washing'. Fascinated by Shakespeare, she lobbied for the part of Caliban in The Tempest because she was transported by the thought 'of living in this wonderful exotic world, of a creature locked in this awful physical prison but with a dim sense that there was something else out there'.

Despite feeling 'totally and ridiculously inhibited', Mirren discovered a new-found confidence while assuming other identities. Even though her cousin, Tania Mallet, had become an actress (notably playing Tilly Masterson in Guy Hamilton's Goldfinger - see Cinema Paradiso's article on Sean Connery's Bond Girls ), Mirren's mother disapproved. Consequently, Helen followed Kate to the New College of Speech and Drama, a teacher training facility that was based in ballerina Anna Pavlova's former home in London. Mirren didn't complete the course, however, as she had decided she wanted to be 'the Sarah Bernhardt of my generation' and auditioned for the National Youth Theatre.

All the World's a Stage

Ben Kingsley, David Suchet, Ian McShane and Kenneth Cranham were among Mirren's contemporaries at the National Youth Theatre. The latter was her 'first proper boyfriend' and once recalled, 'Even as a teenager, she had a thing about regality. She's always had that hauteur. It was that thing of being apart and having poise and taking it all in.' Indeed, Mirren herself once joked, 'I don't mind if I don't have any lines as long as I get to wear a crown.'

A still from Helen Mirren at the BBC (1974)
A still from Helen Mirren at the BBC (1974)

She made her debut as a queen in the NYT's Old Vic production of Antony and Cleopatra, making such an impression that she became the youngest actress to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. Under the guidance of director Trevor Nunn, Mirren quickly became known for her daring approach to classical roles, even appearing déshabilée in Troilus and Cressida (1968). Cranham claims 'She was like a Rubens in bluejeans,' but The Guardian put it more bluntly, when it proclaimed Mirren to be 'The Sex Queen of Stratford.'

Around this time, she took her first steps into cinema, following an uncredited bit in Robert Asher's Norman Wisdom comedy, A Stitch in Time (1966), with a commercial spot in Don Levy's satire on consumerism and advertising, Herostratus (1967). In 1969, she flew to the Great Barrier Reef to play Cora Ryan, the free spirit who inspires James Mason's jaded artist in Michael Powell's Age of Consent.

For a short period at the end of the decade, Mirren worked on a kibbutz in Israel. In 1970, she was profiled by John Goldschmidt for the TV documentary Doing Her Own Thing, which aptly summed up this phase of Mirren's career, as she travelled to Italy for Piero Zuffi's crime thriller, Red Hot Shot (1970); impacted as Valerie in the BBC's five-part serialisation of Honoré de Balzac's Cousin Bette (1971); inspired another artist in Ken Russell's Henri Gaudier-Brzeska biopic, Savage Messiah; recreated her stage role in Henrik Ibsen's Miss Julie (both 1972); and ventured to Africa to develop The Conference of the Birds for Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Research (1972-73).

Having doubled up as bohemian socialite Patricia Burgess and the casting receptionist in Lindsay Anderson's spiky satire, O Lucky Man (1973), Mirren played Ophelia and Gertrude in Spaniard Celestino Coronado's experimental reworking of Hamlet (1976). According to critic John Heilpern, Mirren was at a crossroads, as 'she couldn't decide whether to be a classical actress or a Hollywood movie star'. However, she also spent much of the decade on television and Cinema Paradiso users can access 11 of her finest performances on Helen Mirren At the BBC (2008), which contains The Changling (1974); The Apple Cart; Caesar and Claretta; The Philanthropist; The Little Minister (all 1975); The Country Wife (1977); Blue Remembered Hills (1979); Mrs Reinhardt; A Midsummer Night's Dream (both 1981); Cymbeline (1983); and The Hawk (1995).

In 1975, Mirren was infamously interviewed by Michael Parkinson on his BBC chat show. But she forgave the Beeb sufficiently to play Rosalind in As You Like It (1978), Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981) and Imogen in Cymbeline (1982), which are available from Cinema Paradiso via the BBC Television Shakespeare Collection. Back on stage, Mirren continued to garner plaudits as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (1974), rocker Maggie Frisby in Teeth 'n' Smiles, Nina in The Seagull (both 1975), Queen Margaret in Henry VI (1977) and Isabella in Measure For Measure (1979). But the lure of the cinema was becoming stronger.

Mirren, Mirren on the Wall

Towards the end of the 1970s, Mirren 'moved to Paris and tried to become a French actress. It didn't really work out, and I came back to England.' Things didn't get off to the most auspicious start, with a guest role as stewardess May Sloan in Billy Hale's teleplay, S.O.S. Titanic, and the part of Caesonia, who just happened to be the most promiscuous woman in Rome, in Tinto Brass's Caligula (both 1979), which was produced by Penthouse founder, Bob Guccione. Mirren managed to retain her dignity in the latter and similarly brought a touch of humanity to the part of Beaty, a prostitute trying to balance a love affair with a custody battle in Matthew Chapman's Hussy (1980).

A still from Hussy (1980)
A still from Hussy (1980)

The prospect of playing a WPC who disguises herself as Queen Victoria and ventures on to the dark side enticed Mirren into playing Alice Rage in Piers Haggard's The Fiendish Case of Dr Fu Manchu. However, this comic caper is now best remembered as the last film made by Peter Sellers. Being on the wrong side of the law clearly appealed, however, as Mirren was cast as Victoria, the moll of London gangster Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) in John Mackenzie's crime classic, The Long Good Friday (both 1980).

This is usually regarded as Mirren's screen breakthrough and she reinforced her new status as Morgana, the seductive enchantress, in John Boorman's acclaimed interpretation of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur (1981). During the shoot, Mirren fell in love with co-star Liam Neeson (famously teaching him how to drive). However, a bigger turning point came when she felt she had been snubbed during awards season for her 1982 Stratford performance in Antony and Cleopatra. 'They don't like me. They hate what I do,' she decided. 'I'll go somewhere else...Suddenly, Hollywood was a way of saying, "F**k you, England".'

When she returned to film, following a three-year hiatus, she gave one of her finest performances (and earned a BAFTA nomination in the process), as Marcella, the librarian who falls for the IRA member (John Lynch) who had killed her RUC officer husband, in Pat O'Connor's trenchant adaptation of Bernard McLaverty's Cal (1984). The same year saw Mirren draw on her ancestral roots to play Soviet cosmonaut Tanya Kirbuk in Peter Hyams's 2010: The Year We Make Contact, a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that sees the Leonov blast off to assess the state of the HAL 9000 computer aboard the Discovery One space station.

Another brush with Mother Russia came when Mirren was teamed with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights (1985). However, this tale of dance and defection proved more significant for introducing Mirren to American director Taylor Hackford, who has been her partner ever since. The couple will celebrate their silver wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve.

Prior to this date with destiny, Mirren played teacher Ruth Chancellor, who recognises that all is not well with colleague Vic Matthews (Tom Conti) in Charles Gormley's comic Catholic miracle saga, Heavenly Pursuits. She also starred with Kenneth Branagh in Peter Barber-Fleming's Coming Through (both 1982), a little-seen account of the early courtship of D.H. Lawrence and Frieda von Richthofen.

Having been possessed by a malevolent spirit in Peter Medak's 'Dead Woman's Shoes' episode of The Twilight Zone (1985), Mirren remained in Hollywood to partner Harrison Ford, as Allie and Margot Fox, in Peter Weir's ambitious adaptation of Paul Theroux's Central American adventure, The Mosquito Coast (1986). The exotic setting proved equally taxing in James Dearden's take on Barry Unsworth's Pascali's Island (1988), in which Mirren plays an Austrian artist who finds herself caught between a British archaeologist and an Ottoman spy on the Greek island of Nisi.

Sadly, this intense drama isn't available on disc. Neither are Cause Célèbre (1987), When the Whales Came (1989) and Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990). But Cinema Paradiso users can savour Mirren as Georgina Spica exacting gruesome revenge upon her villainous spouse, Albert (Michael Gambon), in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989). They can also enjoy her byplay with Christoper Walken, as Caroline and Robert befriend younger couple Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson) in Paul Schrader's Harold Pinter-scripted version of Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers (1990).

The scene switches from Venice to the Tuscan town of Monteriano, as widow Lilia Herriton falls under the spell of a handsome young local in Charles Sturridge's adaptation of E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991). Co-starring Helena Bonham Carter and Rupert Graves, this was Mirren's first experience of classical British heritage cinema. But she was to devote the next few years to a very different kind of project. When discussing some of her early films, Mirren confessed, 'I used to feel like a racehorse pulling a cart in some of those roles.' But, thanks to writer Lynda La Plante, Mirren discovered so much about herself as Detective Inspector Jane Tennison that she would claim, 'My great university of film acting was Prime Suspect. '

A still from The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
A still from The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

Cinema Paradiso members can select from the 10 discs in Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (2011) to see Tennison striving to crack cases under the scrutiny of her chauvinist male colleagues, while also dealing with complex issues in her private life. The quality of La Plante's writing is as strong as it had been in Widows (1983-85), while the support playing is first rate. But it's Mirren who dominates proceedings and thoroughly merited her hat-trick of BAFTA Television Awards (1991-93) - a feat that has only been equalled by Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and Michael Gambon - and her 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress. She would repeat this achievement for Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act (2006).

Exploring Possibilities

Mirren seemed intent on challenging herself in the 1990s, as she took roles in some markedly different projects. In David Hayman's The Hawk, Annie Marsh's mental health history causes her to doubt the growing conviction that her husband is a serial killer. By contrast, in Gabriel Axel's Prince of Jutland (both 1993), Geruth refuses to believe son Amled (Christian Bale) when he claims that his father was murdered by Fenge (Gabriel Byrne), the uncle who has just married his mother.

Remaining at court, as the scene shifted from Elsinore to Buckingham Palace, Mirren received her first Oscar nomination for her Best Supporting turn as Queen Charlotte in Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of Alan Bennett's play, The Madness of King George (1994), in which she seeks to protect her husband (Nigel Hawthorne) from the ambitious Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett) and unorthodox physician, Francis Willis (Ian Holm). And, having won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Mirren continued in a royal vein by voicing the title character in Martin Gates's animated version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen (1995) and Tuya, the queen who adopts and names Moses in Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman and Steve Hickner's Old Testament animation, The Prince of Egypt (1998).

Having played Kathleen Quigley, the mother of an IRA hunger striker in Terry George's Some Mother's Son and a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown in Kevin Bacon's Losing Chase (both 1996), Mirren turned her hand to comedy, as head nurse Stella strives to keep ICU doctor Werner Ernst (James Spader) focussed on the day job in Sidney Lumet's Critical Care (1997). There was also a darkly comic tone to Kevin Williamson's Teaching Mrs Tingle (1999), as sadistic history teacher Eve Tingle comes a cropper after downgrading Grandsboro high school student Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes) because of a minor inaccuracy in her final project.

A still from Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)
A still from Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

Fresh from essaying a singer who turns sleuth in Julian Jarrold's teleplay, Painted Lady (1997), Mirren remained on the small screen to give an Emmy-winning performance as the controversial American writer in Christopher Menaul's The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999). Typifying Mirren's eclecticism during this period, she followed this weighty biopic by playing Georgina Whitehouse, the horticulturist who helps the inmates of a prison compete at the Chelsea Flower Show in Joel Hershman's fact-based dramedy, Greenfingers (2000).

Starting the millennium by making her directorial debut with the short, Happy Birthday, Mirren took a one-scene cameo in Sean Penn's The Pledge, in which she plays a doctor who encourages Jack Nicholson's retired Reno cop to discuss himself and a child killing with which he is obsessed. She's also on the periphery as the TV network boss who allows journalist Sarah Polley to investigate her fiancé's mauling by an Icelandic monster in No Such Thing, Hal Hartley's loose reworking of the Beowulf myth.

Still in 2001, Mirren contributed a poignant performance as Amy to Fred Schepisi's fine adaptation of Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, Last Orders, as the widow of a London butcher who goes to visit their institutionalised daughter while his pals (Bob Hoskins, David Hemmings, Ray Winstone and Tom Courtenay) go on a sentimental journey to scatter his ashes. However, Mirren was even more outstanding as Lizzie Wilson, the housekeeper suddenly confronted with her long-lost son in Robert Altman's Gosford Park (both 2001), which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and which can be explored in greater depth in one of Cinema Paradiso's What to Watch Next articles.

A Fabulous Liberation

As she landed Emmy nominations for the teleplays, Door to Door (2002) and The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (2003), Mirren had a Damascene revelation. She described it as 'a fabulous liberation', as she lost her idealism and the sense of vocation that she was fulfilling a serious and necessary function in her culture. 'It was all so angst-ridden,' she told one interviewer. Now, projects became 'a bit of work and a bit of dosh' and she felt that she was a better performer as a consequence. 'I'm not saying I don't take it seriously,' she continued. 'I do. But pomposity has gone out of the enterprise.'

Despite having initial misgivings, Mirren returned to features as Chris Harper in Nigel Cole's Calendar Girls (2003), a fact-inspired, all-star drama about a group of Yorkshire women who pose for a nude calendar to raise funds for leukaemia research. Her performance earned Mirren a Golden Globe nomination, which was soon topped by a damehood in the Queen's Birthday honours list.

A still from The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (2003)
A still from The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (2003)

Factual events also informed Pieter Jan Brugge's The Clearing, which cast Mirren as the wife of Pittsburgh businessman (Robert Redford), who is kidnapped by a former employee (Willem Dafoe). This unshowy role as a woman learning about her spouse's secret life was followed by a grandstanding cameo as Dominique, the head of the Manhattan modelling agency for which Kate Hudson works in Garry Marshall's Raising Helen (both 2004).

Having voiced a lioness named Macheeba in John Downer's Pride (2004) and the Deep Thought supercomputer in Garth Jennings's big-screen adaptation of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mirren found herself on the end of a rare critical backlash for playing Rose, a cancer sufferer who carries out contract killings with her stepson-cum-lover Mikey (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in Lee Daniels's thriller, Shadowboxer (both 2005). However, she was back in the critical good books after becoming the first actress in screen history to play both Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.

In Tom Hooper's miniseries, Elizabeth (2005), Mirren emphasises the Virgin Queen's independent approach to ruling, as she defies her ministers to dally with favourites Leicester (Jeremy Irons) and Essex (Hugh Dancy). By contrast, in Stephen Frears's The Queen (2006), she shows the monarch bowing to public pressure in the aftermath of the tragic car-crash death of Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris in August 1997. These inspired performances respectively earned Mirren an Emmy and a Golden Globe and a clean sweep of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award, as well as the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival.

Mirren would play Elizabeth II again on stage in The Audience (2013), which was also written by Peter Morgan. During the interval in one performance, she stormed out of the Gielgud Theatre in the West End of London to reprimand a group of drummers who could be heard inside the auditorium. She would take the production to Broadway and complete her set of major prizes by adding a Tony to her Laurence Olivier Award. She had previously been nominated for the former in A Month in the Country (1995) and The Dance of Death (2002) and for the latter in Orpheus Descending (2001) and Mourning Becomes Electra (2003).

Stage assignments had periodically kept Mirren away from the screen since the early 1980s. But she was now more avowedly a screen actress, as she played Nicolas Cage's archaeo-lexicologist mother, Emily Appleton, in Jon Turteltaub's National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), and Great-Aunt Elinor to 12 year-old Meggie (Eliza Bennett) in Iain Softley's adaptation of Cornelia Funke's bestselling fantasy, Inkheart (2008). Such was her fame that Mirren appeared as herself in the 'Jackie Jomp-Jomp' episode of 30 Rock (2006-13) and was invited to be the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car in Series 10 of Top Gear (2007). The same year also saw her publish her autobiography, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures.

Queen of All She Surveys

By this stage of her career, Mirren was content to take choice supporting roles, like Washington Globe editor Cameron Lynn, who gives reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) a hard time for the conduct of his investigation into Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) in Kevin Macdonald's State of Play (2008), which relocated Paul Abbott's 2003 BBC thriller series to the American capital. But Mirren also welcomed the challenge provided by roles like Sofya, who is trying to protect husband Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) from Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), the disciple who seeks to control the revered Russian novelist's legacy in Michael Hoffman's The Last Station (2009).

A still from The Last Station (2009) With Helen Mirren
A still from The Last Station (2009) With Helen Mirren

Both Mirren and Plummer received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. But there was no resting on any laurels, as Mirren went on to voice Pannonica Rothschild, the Jewish aristocrat who fell in love with pianist Thelonious Monk, in grand-niece Hannah Rothschild's documentary, The Jazz Baroness (2009). Moreover, Mirren also made six films in 2010.

She started by reuniting with husband Taylor Hackford on Love Ranch, the story of America's first legal brothel, in which she teamed with Joe Pesci to play Charlie and Grace Bontempo, who were modelled on Joe and Sally Conforte, the founders of the Mustang Ranch in Nevada. This sordid delve into immorality was followed by Julie Taymor's reworking of The Tempest, in which Prospero became Prospera so that Mirren could play one of Shakespeare's most beguilingly enigmatic characters.

Although impressed by Mirren, the critics were less than enchanted by the picture as a whole. But she had already moved on to follow Hermione Baddeley in playing Ida Arnold (as a plucky tea-shop owner) in Rowan Joffé's Brighton Rock (2010), which switched the 1930s setting that John Boulting had retained for his 1947 adaptation of Graham Greene's vicious crime novel to the 1960s in order to capture the era of the seaside rumbles between armed gangs of Mods and Rockers.

Until this point, Mirren had not been tempted to stray into the world of comic-books. But 2010 ended with an invitation she couldn't refuse. Having voiced Nyra, the queen of the Pure Ones and the co-founder of the St Aegolious Home for Orphaned Owls, in Zack Snyder's take on Kathryn Lasky's Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Mirren signed up for Robert Schwentke's Red. This action thriller draws on a series of Homage Comics by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner and pitches retired MI6 assassin Victoria Winslow into the travails of former CIA black ops agent, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who is being targeted, along with Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman) and Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), because of their involvement in a 1981 mission in Guatemala.

A still from The Tempest (2010)
A still from The Tempest (2010)

Mirren would join forces with Willis and Malkovich again in Dean Parisot's Red 2 (2013), as they seek out Dr Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who was linked to Operation Nightshade, a clandestine Cold War initiative to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the Soviet Union. By the time Mirren made this sinister espionage thriller, she had plumbed even murkier depths to play Rachel Singer in John Madden's The Debt (2010), a remake of Assaf Bernstein's Ha-Hov (2007), in which a young Mossad agent (played in the 1965-70 period by Jessica Chastain) goes to East Berlin to effect the capture of Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the notorious Nazi war criminal known as 'the Surgeon of Birkenau'.

Following this hectic phase, Mirren settled for the role of Lillian Hobson, the nanny of Russell Brand's wayward millionaire in Arthur (2011), Jason Winer's remake of the 1981 Steve Gordon original that had cast Dudley Moore in the title role and an Oscar-winning John Gielgud as Hobson the valet. Mirren played another servant, the eccentric housekeeper Emerenc, in István Szabó's scandalously little-seen dramedy, The Door (2012), which co-starred Martina Gedeck as 1960s Hungarian novelist Magda Szabó.

Much more visible was Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock (2012), which chronicled the travails of Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) during the making of Psycho (1960) and the state of his marriage to screenwriter wife, Alma Reville. Mirren received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for her performance, which she followed by bagging Golden Globe and Emmy nods for her work alongside Al Pacino as Linda Kenney Baden, the lawyer who had defended the notorious record producer on a murder charge in David Mamet's Phil Spector (2013). In addition to the Red sequel, Mirren's only other credit in this year came in Dan Scanlon's Monsters University, in which she voiced strict dean, Abigail Hardscrabble.

A still from Arthur (2011) With Helen Mirren
A still from Arthur (2011) With Helen Mirren

In Lasse Hallström's adaptation of Richard C. Morais's The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), which was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, Mirren proved equally forbidding in a Globe-nominated display as Madame Mallory, the owner of the Michelin-starred Le Saule Pleureur, who takes exception to Abbu Kadam (Om Puri) opening the Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai, directly across the road in the French village of St Antonin. However, Mirren was on the side of right as Maria Altmann in Simon Curtis's Woman in Gold (2015), which recalls how a Jewish refugee enlisted the help of inexperienced lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to sue the Austrian government for the return of Gustav Klimt's misappropriated painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Having narrated Shaun Monson's documentary, Unity (2015), Mirren donned uniform for the first time in Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky, as Colonel Katherine Powell is frustrated by her superiors in a bid to capture the Al-Shabaab operatives responsible for killing an undercover agent in Kenya. She was on more familiar ground in Jay Roach's Trumbo (all 2015), however, as she played gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in a recreation of Hollywood during the postwar Communist witch-hunt. Mirren earned another Golden Globe nomination, while co-star Bryan Cranston earned Globe, BAFTA and Oscar citations for her performance as blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

In David Frankel's Collateral Beauty (2016), Mirren's Brigitte reaches out to Howard Inlet (Will Smith), who sends letters to Love, Time and Death following the death of his young daughter. As the narrator, Mirren also provided a consoling insight into the plight of those caught up in a brutal civil war in Evgeny Afineevsky's documentary, Cries From Syria (2017).

A still from Woman in Gold (2015) With Helen Mirren And Ryan Reynolds
A still from Woman in Gold (2015) With Helen Mirren And Ryan Reynolds

Changing tack, Mirren took an uncredited cameo as Magdalene 'Queenie' Shaw in F. Gary Gray's The Fate of the Furious (2017), the eighth outing in the Fast & Furious franchise. Despite being denied the chance to drive at high speeds, she reprised the role of the tough East End mother of Deckard (Jason Statham), Owen (Luke Evans) and Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) in David Leitch's Hobbs & Shaw (2019) and Justin Lin's F9 (2021). Another appearance has already been lined up for Louis Leterrier's Fast X (2023).

The wheels rolled at a less frantic pace in The Leisure Seeker (2017), which saw acclaimed Italian director Paolo Virzi make his English-language debut with an adaptation of a Michael Zadoorian novel about an ageing couple, John and Ella Spencer, who set off on a last road trip in their vintage Winnebago before he succumbs to dementia. Reuniting with Donald Sutherland after Bethune, Mirren was nominated at the Golden Globes for a 15th time. The year also saw her take dual UK-US citizenship.

Taking viewers back to 1906, Michael and Peter Spierig's Winchester cast Mirren as the widow of the maker of the famous rifle that gave its title to one of James Stewart's best Anthony Mann Westerns, Winchester '73 (1950). Convinced that she is being haunted by the ghosts of all the weapon's victims, Sarah Winchester is subjected to medical assessment by Dr Eric Price (Jason Clarke). For once, however, Mirren found few allies in the press corps and she received her first nomination for Worst Actress at the Golden Raspberry Awards. Undeterred by her Razzie recognition, she took the role of Mother Ginger, the regent of the Land of Amusements, in Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston's Disney fantasy, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (both 2018)

In playing Keira Knightley's mother in Iranian-born Massy Tadjedin's segment of Berlin, I Love You, Mirren found herself being directed by a woman for only the second time in her cinematic career. However, she would next hook up with Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migotto for their poignant documentary, #AnneFrank: Parallel Stories (both 2019), in which Mirren read extracts from the Dutch teenager's diary in a meticulous replica of her wartime hiding place in an Amsterdam attic.

A still from Winchester (2018)
A still from Winchester (2018)

Following another actuality, Bill Jones and Kim Leggatt's memoir of HandMade Films, An Accidental Studio, Mirren was cast as Olga, the 1990s KGB handler of assassin-cum-undercover model Anna Poliatova (Sasha Luss) in Luc Besson's spy thriller, Anna. This wasn't Mirren's last hark back to her ancestral homeland in 2019, however, as she also played the German princess who ruled Russia from 1764-96 in Philip Martin's four-part miniseries, Catherine the Great, which resulted in yet another Golden Globe nomination.

There was one last memorable role in 2019, as Mirren sparred with Ian McKellern as wealthy widow Betty McLeish and unscrupulous conman Roy Courtenay in Bill Condon's version of Nicholas Searle's novel, The Good Liar. Odd couples and criminality also went together well in The Duke (2020), Roger Michell's final fictional feature before his posthumous documentary, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts (2022). Mirren plays Dorothy, the down-to-earth wife of Newcastle rights campaigner and aspiring dramatist Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), who, in 1961, ransomed Francisco Goya's National Gallery portrait of the Duke Wellington in an effort to raise funds for his social causes.

A still from The Duke (2020)
A still from The Duke (2020)

After voicing Snickers the prissy poodle in Thea Sharrock's circus escape saga, The One and Only Ivan and narrating Matthew R. Brady's eco-actuality, Escape From Extinction (both 2020), Mirren hunkered down with Hackford during the Coronavirus pandemic. Since chasing a black bear out of her garden, she has joined the superhero ranks in playing the villainous Hespera in David F. Sandberg's DC Comics spin-off, Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Moreover, she has signed up to play the grandmother of Julian Albans (Bryce Gheisar), who tells him stories about her Jewish childhood in Nazi-occupied France in Marc Forster's White Bird: A Wonder Story, a sequel to Stephen Chbosky's Wonder (2017), which was also inspired by a graphic novel by R.J. Palacio.

Mirren's casting as Golda Meir in Guy Nattiv's forthcoming biopic, Golda, has sparked controversy, as some, including Maureen Lipman, have questioned whether a non-Jewish actress should play Israel's prime minister during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Mirren has called the disquiet 'utterly legitimate' and conceded that there is 'a terrible unfairness in my profession'. But she has been acting with insight, intensity and integrity for six decades and, hopefully, will long continue to do so.

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