Welcome to The Helen Mirren Archives, your premiere web resource on the British actress. Best known for her performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, "Prime Suspect" and her Oscar-winning role in "The Queen", Helen Mirren is one of the world's most eminent actors today. This unofficial fansite provides you with all latest news, photos and videos on her past and present projects. Enjoy your stay.
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From her film roles to her fashion choices, Helen Mirren is living life more boldly than ever, and inspiring women young and old to do the same.
It was a warm October night in Paris. A crowd had gathered along a glassy black runway beneath a gold-lit Eiffel Tower. For the 2023 incarnation of L’Oréal’s Le Défilé Walk Your Worth showcase, the cosmetics house had assembled a glamorous cast – Kendall Jenner, Andie MacDowell, Viola Davis and Eva Longoria among them. And the most striking pairing of all: Elle Fanning, 25, in floor-length, gold chiffon, hand in hand with Dame Helen Mirren, 78, her long mane crimped, wild and back-combed, wearing a river of metallic sequins, belted at the waist. She was a shiny, silver bombshell. The words “SISTERS AND STRONG” flashed on the screen behind them, in something like ’80s Wham! “CHOOSE LIFE” block-caps. Then their hands fell free and each owned the runway solo, Dame Helen radiating joy, a hint of mischief in her smile, a playful flip of a floor-length sleeve, and at the last moment blowing a kiss to the A-list crowd, which was spellbound, again. Because who could forget Helen’s appearance on the runway in 2017, dressed in widelegged checked pants and a black trenchcoat cinched at the waist, swinging a rather elegant cane? Jane Fonda also walked that year for L’Oréal. In the front row, Naomi Campbell could barely contain her excitement. “It’s about bloody time,” Helen said of the change in the fashion and beauty industry that her runway appearance reflected. “I thought, at last, there has been a shift – I’m talking about age and beauty, but also diversity.”
Helen Mirren is having a moment. Indeed, she’s been having a moment for some time. In her 20s, she saw a palm reader who told her that her greatest success would come after 40. She doesn’t believe in palmistry or any other form of fortune-telling, but even she admits that the palmist was spot-on. The first episode of Prime Suspect, the award-winning UK detective series that made her a household name, aired just three months shy of her 46th birthday. Since then she has accrued more courage, range, power and even beauty with every passing year. Daunted by neither superhero films nor Shakespeare, in the past year alone she’s appeared as the villainous Hespera in the Shazam! franchise (for which she did her own stunts), as the marvellously droll narrator in Barbie and as Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female prime minister. Helen could not have known how heartbreakingly prescient that role would be, coming as the Middle East is once again in flames. Golda was the prime minister who, in October 1973, exactly 50 years before the most recent assaults, led her nation through the Yom Kippur War. Like this war, it took the Israeli government and military by surprise, and shocked the world as the casualties escalated. Helen has a deep, long-standing connection with Israel, which she first visited in 1967 after the Six-Day War. She volunteered on a kibbutz and hitchhiked through the countryside. “I witnessed things that were wrong,” she said in an interview with Israeli television earlier this year. “I saw Arabs being thrown out of their houses in Jerusalem. But it was just the extraordinary magical energy of a country beginning to put its roots in the ground. It was an amazing time to be here.”
Helen has received substantial praise for her performance as the beleaguered Israeli leader, as well as some flack from Palestinians who believe the film glorifies war and whitewashes Meir’s anti-Arab racism, and from some Jews who believe Jewish characters should only be played by Jewish actors. Helen has been conscious of the ramifications of her involvement from the outset, and says the debate about gentiles playing Jews is “utterly legitimate”. When approached about the role, she told Israeli director Guy Nattiv, “I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction, no hard feelings. I will absolutely understand.” But he wanted her for the role and, crucially, so did Golda Meir’s family – particularly her grandson, Gideon, who had suggested her. The film’s writer, Nicholas Martin, told the Radio Times: “Helen’s job was to portray Golda authentically, which Golda’s family would say she has. A leading Israeli historian said that Helen is ‘more Golda than Golda’.” Courageous calls like this role, and the fact that Helen has always appeared utterly unafraid to be herself and to speak her mind, have drawn her legions of admirers. She learnt fearlessness young. At 23, she was unapologetic about controversial nude scenes in the film Age of Consent, based on Norman Lindsay’s banned novel, and shot on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. At 20, she’d been the youngest actor ever to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and, 10 years later, she was about to play Lady Macbeth when she was invited onto BBC journalist Michael Parkinson’s legendary chat show.
It’s quite extraordinary now to read the transcript of that interview. ‘Parky’ describes her as “a sex queen”. He digs out every sexist review of her work and quotes them to her verbatim, including one that notes she is “especially telling in projecting sluttish eroticism”. He asks: “Do you think you are – in quotes – a serious actress?” At which point, she responds: “What do you mean, ‘in quotes’? How dare you!” He continues: “Do you find that your ‘equipment’ hinders you perhaps in that pursuit?” “I would like you to explain what you mean by my equipment,” she insists. “Well, your physical attributes,” he says rather coyly, whilst ogling her breasts like a schoolboy. “So, serious actresses can’t have big bosoms? Is that what you mean?” “Well, I think they might detract from the performance … ” “Really,” Helen says sweetly, but also just a little witheringly. “I can’t think that can necessarily be true … I would hope that the performance and the play and the living relationship between all the people on stage and all the people in the audience would overcome such boring questions.” While she’s mellowed since Parky’s death, Helen has in the past referred to him as “a sexist old fart”. For his part, Michael remained unapologetic to his grave. “I don’t want to [apologise to Helen]. Nor does she,” he told the Mail on Sunday in 2016. “I don’t regard what happened there as being anything other than good television.” For a time, Helen couldn’t quite reconcile herself with feminism, but she’s certainly taken to the cause with gusto in later life.
“I’ve always lived my life as a feminist,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve always believed in all the theory of feminism without a doubt. It wasn’t like I changed my mind in that direction, I’m just saying that I wasn’t the kind of person who went on marches … I was the kind of feminist who wanted to wear high heels and lipstick and that wasn’t on in the late ’60s. You couldn’t be a feminist and do that kind of thing. Well, you can nowadays, so I’m a modern feminist.” A modern feminist who gleefully encourages feminism in others. Famously, Helen once gave the commencement speech at Tulane University in New Orleans, and among her wise words were these: “No matter what sex you are, or race, be a feminist. In every country and culture that I have visited, from Sweden to Uganda, from Singapore to Mali, it is clear that, when women are given respect and the ability and freedom to pursue their personal dreams and ambitions, life improves for everyone … So, now I am a declared feminist and I would encourage you to be the same.” That said, Helen believes entrenched sexism, particularly in Hollywood, is diminishing fast. “There is a pressure mounting behind a dam,” she told The Hollywood Reporter, “and I hope that dam is finally bursting in terms of women directors and women-led dramas. When I first did Prime Suspect they were not at all sure that a femaleled drama would be acceptable to the public. So that’s how much things have changed. It’s changed hugely … ” Women mustn’t feel we can rest on our laurels, though. “Misogyny is always lurking,” she adds. “It’s under the rug, and if you lift it up, you see it creeping in. I hope very much that the battles waged by women and men – because I don’t exclude men from this debate – in the last 20, 30 years have been fought and won, but you never know … We can only kick down the patriarchy one brick at a time.”
Women have been emboldened by the way Helen has embodied feminism in her life: by her refusal to allow her image to be artificially enhanced in photographs; by her flaunting the power of grey (except when she colours her hair in punkish shades of blue); and by her glorious, glamorous and utterly individual approach to fashion. On the photographs, Helen told L’Oréal from the outset: “What’s the point of having someone like me and then retouching everything out that makes me look like me? I don’t look like a 30 year old. That’s the point.” And on fashion: “I’m not a fashionista,” she told The Weekly, “but I love the art of clothing. I love fashion as an expression of personality.” We’ve seen that this past year when she stepped out in six-inch platforms and Vivienne Westwood tartan to launch Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and later at Cannes in a full-length lilac gown custom-made by young-gun German-Italian designer Daniel Del Core, who cut his teeth at Gucci. Helen’s hair, which she grew during COVID, has been turning heads too. “I hadn’t had long hair since I was in my 20s. And it sort of grew and grew, and I couldn’t be bothered to cut it,” she told UK breakfast show Lorraine. “I thought, do you know what? It’s pretty cool, I think I’ll stick with it for a little while … I’m kind of enjoying it, it’s quite radical.” As Keira Knightley said: “She ages in the most sensational manner. She’s fabulous in every way. You look at her and think, ‘God, you’re having so much fun. You’re enjoying life so much’.” “It’s much better to age disgracefully,” Helen once told Vogue. “Take it on the chin and roll with it. You die young or you get older. There is nothing in between. You may as well enjoy it.”
With an Oscar, a Tony, four Emmys, a swag of BAFTAs, SAGs, Golden Globes and a couple of Cannes Best Actress awards to her name, Helen also inspires professionally. And she has a reputation for mentoring young actors. Presenting Helen with a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award last year, Kate Winslet was effusive. “To use the word royalty doesn’t really fit when describing who Helen truly is. She’s the opposite of grand. Instead, she’s an actress who wants to roll up her sleeves with the rest of us and just get on with the job. “… The privilege of watching her is rivalled only by the pleasure of working with her. On set she’s warm and approachable, collaborative and kind. Prepared to make mistakes in raising the bar, bringing us all together. She’s a champion of others. “She’s staggeringly beautiful and continues to fly the flag for women above the age of 45, and confirms what we’d hoped one day might be recognised in this industry: That women just get better with age.” Perhaps another reason we love Helen is that, while carrying herself with the sort of bravado one imagines in her namesake, Helen of Troy, she nonetheless admits to being plagued by very human frailties. “I still have a great sense of insecurity,” she told The Weekly just three years ago. “I used to look at other girls and think, ‘Oh, I wish I were that confident’.”
Yet, whether faced with anxiety or deep insecurity, she has pushed through. In that same university commencement speech she advised: “Don’t be afraid of fear. Those words bring me back to my grammar womensweekly.com.au school and our headmistress, Mother Mary Mildred … She said those words to me the moment I walked into her class, a trembling 11-year-old about to enter high school. I think what she meant was: Don’t let fear rule you. “Sometimes it’s wise to be afraid, like when you are about to take a dive into a pool with not enough water in it. Or drive a car drunk … But for the moments you are challenged by other fears – like, ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘Am I smart enough?’ ‘Will I fail?’ – throw caution to the winds, look fear straightaway in its ugly face, and barge forward. And when you get past it, turn around and give it a good, swift kick in the arse. And thank Mother Mary Mildred.” It has been another year of living boldly, sometimes dangerously, for Helen, and it’s not been without pain. Her family was rocked last year by the death of her stepson – her husband, the American film director Taylor Hackford’s son, Rio – from a rare and aggressive cancer, and the family is still living with the grief.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Helen is looking forward to a Christmas break to recharge her battery and spend much-needed time with family. Christmas will no doubt also mean a traditional Italian panettone. “It’s simply the best,” she says, adding that she is an unabashed lover of the sweet, Italian fruit bread. Indeed, Helen is a lover of many things Italian, from its fashion and design to its rugged coastlines. With Taylor, she owns two properties in Puglia on the south-eastern coast. One is a rambling 16th-century masseria (fortified stone farmhouse) near Tiggiano; the other a twobedroom clifftop cottage on the coast, in Torre Nasparo. Helen isn’t some fly-by-night jetsetter. She bought there because she loves the landscape, the culture and especially the people. “We came because it was very beautiful,” she says. “We stayed because the people are wonderful – the character of the people, the generosity, the kindness of the people, the passion. That hasn’t changed and I think never will change.” She has learnt a little of the language and has become passionately involved in the battle to save Puglia’s famous olive trees, which are under threat from the virus Xylella fastidiosa. The groves around her masseria have been among the hardest hit, and it is an area dominated by small farmers who can ill afford such wholesale losses.
“Twenty-one million trees have been lost in the last eight years,” she said in an impassioned speech in September. “The landscape has changed from a living green one to one haunted by the grey ghosts of a beautiful past.” For the moment though, Helen is looking forward, not to more causes, cameras or speeches, but to some quiet time. When she is in Puglia she enjoys the sunshine and the traditional village life. “I like to work in the garden,” she says. “I like to work on things in my house, make things on my sewing machine. I want to be more of an Italian nonna than a British movie star.”