One of England’s most respected grande Dames, Helen Mirren, is back on our screens with intellectual drone warfare drama Eye in the Sky. She costars with the likes of Aaron Paul and the late Alan Rickman, but the film makes a big play of selling a tour-de-force performance from the majestic Mirren, who’s career has spanned decades from comedies to dramas to erotic thrillers to lord knows how many Prime Suspects. So, as Eye in the Sky comes into cinemas, we count down the five films that cemented her as one of the greatest screen ladies in history.
Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (Stephen Frears 2006)
The role for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, sees Mirren play our longest reigning monarch in the aftermath of Lady Diana’s untimely demise and the public opinion that turned against her. It’s an understated performance that shows a woman not grieving but in a situation for which she is un-prepared. Mirren gives a near silent performance of ma’am, with the best scenes involving her simply reacting to things. Having previous with the first Queen Elizabeth, this turn as the second is much more layered and reserved and well deserving of it’s award.
Chris, Calendar Girls (Nigel Cole 2003)
One in a long line of wonderful British comedy-dramas, Calendar Girls has an ensemble cast that also features Julie Walters, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Philip Glenister, Ciaran Hinds and many more, but it’s Mirren as open minded and driven Chris that really delivers the heart and soul of the film, showing that Mirren is not afraid to off her clothes even at her age. As always, she makes acting look like the easiest task in the world and puts others to shame doing it.
Amy, Last Orders (Fred Schepsi 2002)
As part of a group of pine British actors (Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtney, Ray Winstone and David Hemmings), Mirren shows that she can hold her own against big boys in this touching tale of loss. As Amy, Mirren plays Hollywood star looks way down as a group of friends are left reeling from the death of one of their own. The backstory that fleshes out the film is some of the best parts, but when it comes to the older cast, Mirren doesn’t put a foot one, able to act Caine, Winstone and co under the table with a blink of tearful eyes and a cough.
Georgina, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway 1989)
Greenaway took cannibalism out of the horror nasties into the art house with this bonkers but brilliant film. There’s a lot to like here, not least that Mirren and Michael Gambon spar like to pros of their craft as husband and wife that they have very very rarely matched. Gambon is on big shouty form, but it’s Mirren who goes small allowing her performance to encompass the entire film, and of course, there’s a perverse joy to be had in the showing of cannibalism in a film that is considered an auteurist vision.
Victoria, The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie 1981)
The British gangster film to end of gangster films, Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren star as Harold Shand and his woman Victoria as one day goes very very wrong for Harold. From the synth theme tune, to the downbeat ending the entire film is like a descent into hell, but Mirren is angelic as Victoria being one of the few women in the film that can keep things rooted, grounded and emotionally engaging. Mirren is what you’d expect from a mafia moll, she’s gorgeous, seductive and with a lot more darkness behind the eyes. Hoskins once said that there was talk of a sequel, but they could never figure out a way to top that ending, and thank goodness they couldn’t.