Forgive me, but I am so passionately in love with Dame Helen Mirren. Yes, she is old enough to be my mother/grandmother, but she still is a remarkably beautiful woman and make no apologies for being totally ga-ga over her.
Of course, it helps that Dame Helen is also just a damn fine actress who loves to work. She is like most British actresses (yes, I know she's technically Russian, but by God we love her as a Brit, OK?), trained in Shakespeare. I will say that her love affair with the Bard continues: one of her most recent films was an adaptation of The Tempest. Here, she did what few have done: made Prospero into a female. She can get away with it because her talent is capable of holding an audience captive, even for a part that was written as a man. I can't say how good or bad the film is, but it would be thrilling to see her live on stage.
In any case, I remember one of the first films I saw her in: Excalibur. I won't lie: I thought it was junk, and a terrible disappointment. She was the temptress Morgana, and she was not just beautiful (was--still is) but dangerous as the mistress of evil. It was a good performance in what I think is a bad movie.
This ability to do good work in bad pictures is best (or worst) captured in GORE VIDAL'S Caligula (yes, I also know it should be just Caligula since GORE VIDAL asked to have his name removed, but there's something endlessly pompous about calling it GORE VIDAL'S Caligula). I was shocked when I first watched it. I thought it the most pretentious porn film ever made (incidentally, this is my first experience with a porn film--believe it or not). She still is proud of her work in Caligula, and I emphasize that she herself was not in any of the hard-core sex scenes inserted into this fiasco of a flop of a film. I think this is part of her charm: that she can be in a simply awful film and still think it was all good fun. Sorry dear, in this regard we're going to have to agree to disagree--it was TERRIBLE, so terrible it can't even be camp.
I digress to wonder why Mirren has such a brazen exhibitionist streak. There she is in Caligula, there she is in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. It isn't fair to judge a film I haven't seen (that being The Cook, The Thief...) but from what I understand here's another film that is quite explicit (those who have seen it please tell me if I'm wrong). Perhaps that shows a daring aspect of her nature as an actress, one who doesn't fear provocative material.
In any case, we see her best work really wasn't on the big screen but on television. She was and will always be Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennyson in the Prime Suspect series. Here was a chance to create a whole character: a woman facing up to sexism and battling her own drinking problem. She was a full-rounded person, with all the flaws and courage that go with it.
In fact, some of her best work has been on television. I remember very well her portrayal of Libertarian Icon Ayn Rand in The Passion of Ayn Rand. Curious that her Russian accent never sounded comical, and at least she was smart enough to know it was necessary (not like say, Brad Pitt's pan-European tones in Troy). Rand was not a villain but both a cult figure and deeply wounded woman. Another great performance was as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth I.
This leads me to her most iconic role: Elizabeth II in The Queen. It's a sign of her talent that she transcended what was on the page. The script, from what I understand, was attempting to portray Her Majesty in a negative light. However, we saw Elizabeth Windsor not as a cold, unfeeling woman, but as someone bound by her role as monarch who finds herself in a strange world and almost overwhelmed by circumstances she barely comprehends. Never once in The Queen did Her Majesty appear to be a terrible person, and actually her motivations appear totally human: attempting to shield her grandsons from the grisly and excessive coverage of their mother's death.
One scene in particular stands out. Her Majesty has found herself stranded in a creek. Waiting for help to arrive, she appears to finally break down in tears from the barrage she has been facing from all sides: a hostile press, a people in the fits of furious mourning, a government that keeps pushing her to do things she doesn't want to do. However, we don't see her cry. Instead, we only hear her as her face is away from the camera. It's one thing when an actor/actress manages to move us. It's another when they do so without us being able to see their face. One is moved to compassion for Her Majesty, who we see is just at a loss to understand what is going on, and end up admiring her strength in facing the mob...and ultimately winning.
Her career post-The Queen has shown she is not a Grande Dame. She can do action as well as anyone (example: RED), but she's also made some terrible mistakes. The remake of Arthur was a mistake from the get-go, and again she takes a part written for a man (Hobson) and suits it for a woman. Of course, the secret of Dame Helen Mirren is this: do the parts that appeal to her and don't apologize for trying new things. That's one part of her greatness. The other: she's just a damn good actress...and also incredibly hot.
With that, we wish a Happy 66th Birthday to Dame Helen Mirren--who lives up to the song "There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame".
|A rather impressive Body of Work, no?|