7 Favorite Roles of Helen Mirren to Celebrate Her Birthday

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite British Dames! She was born in July 26, 1945 in Hammersmith, London. She got her start in her acting career with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Oscar-winning actress has had an illustrious career with over 130 credits under her belt spanning over 6 decades, that’s not even counting her various theatrical work which garner her Laurence Olivier Theatre Award and Tony nominations. She is one of the 10 actresses I’d watch in just about ANYTHING … I mean, I even enjoyed her in silly action flicks like Fast Saga and RED. Well, I hope she gets to do more interesting roles all the way to her sunset years.

Before I get to her fave roles, are a few interesting facts about Dame Mirren (Source: Factinate, 10 Facts About)

    • Her father had Russian aristocratic roots, and she was actually born Illiana Lydia Petrovna Mironova
    • Mirren has frequently spoken about her choice not to have children, saying that “I never felt the need for a child and never felt the loss of it. . .I’d always put my work before anything.”

    • Mirren has played a queen six different times over her career. Most notable was her turn as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 in The Queen, for which she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a SAG Award. Queen Elizabeth II herself has stated that The Queen was one of her favorite films of that year.

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    • Mirren and Liam Neeson met when they both starred in the 1980 film Excalibur, and ended up dating for four years. Neeson confessed to being “smitten” with Mirren the first time he saw her in her Morgan le Fay costume. The relationship eventually ended when Mirren, seven years his senior, encouraged him to leave the proverbial nest and find his own path in Hollywood. One year after her split with Neeson, she met her future husband, director Taylor Hackford.

      Here’s an amusing reunion on Graham Norton you’ve just got to watch:

    • Mirren is known to have a rebellious streak. When on a visit to a Native American reservation located in Minnesota, on a whim she got a star tattoo made on her left hand.

    • The TV series Frasier was known for having famous voices call into Dr. Crane’s radio show, and Mirren was no exception. She was a caller on a 2004 episode called “Coots and Ladders,” and played a character named Babette.

Now, speaking of her film roles, here are seven of my favorite roles she’s done so far:

The Queen

It’s her most famous role where she practically swept every single award that year, deservedly so. It’s one of my favorite Best Actress Oscar winners and reportedly even the real Queen Elizabeth herself liked her performance! It was more than just her spot-on physical transformation, facial expression, voice delivery, but her emotional delivery makes the performance iconic.

Eye in the Sky

I saw this film because who could resist Dame Mirren AND Alan Rickman in the same film! If you like cerebral war thrillers with a great cast, well then I highly recommend this one. Dame Mirren is convincing as a conflicted military officer who had to navigate through such maddening protocols and bureaucracy in times of war. 

The Good Liar

Now, this one is another thriller that’s worth a watch for the dynamic duo of Dame Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen. They’re truly the reason to see this film that misses from being truly great due to the script/direction being uneven. I love how the two British thespian who are masters of their craft play opposite each other, and as my pal Vince said in his review, the first two thirds of the movie is a slow burn of calculated intensity.

The Debt

Wow, can’t believe it’s been over a decade since I saw this Nazi-themed thriller, but I remember really enjoying it and I saw it primarily for Dame Mirren who’s billed as the lead. She truly carried the film though it’s got a pretty good supporting cast including Jessica Chastain and Tom Wilkinson. She even got to speak a bit of Russian in the beginning, though she actually doesn’t speak the language of her native heritage.

Hitchcock

This is an intriguing film for fans of Hitchcock as it’s set during the making of Psycho. The film showcases the relationship between one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century (played by Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Though Hopkins is the lead, Dame Mirren is the main reason to see it for me. I love all the scenes Alma is in, especially the part where she passionately gave her husband a piece of her mind during a heated argument.

The Last Station

Yet another period piece where Dame Mirren played a prominent character in a celebrated male artistic icon. As Countess Sofya Andreevna Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s muse, she sizzles once again played opposite another prominent British thespian Christopher Plummer. The story centers on Tolstoy’s struggle to balance fame and wealth with his commitment to a life devoid of material things. I just love her energy, vulnerability and spunk in this role and no doubt the emotional core of the story.

 

Woman In Gold

Last but not least, this is another WWII-themed drama with Dame Mirren as Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee whose family artwork was one of the plethora Jewish artwork plundered by the Nazis during the war. Mirren is perfectly cast as someone with the strength and determination to take on the Austrian government to get back what’s rightfully hers. In my review from 2015, I said I didn’t really care for Ryan Reynolds‘ casting, though in hindsight he’s actually ok in this movie. The star of the film is definitely Dame Mirren, with strong supporting performances from Tatiana Maslany as her younger character and Antje Traue who played her aunt during the war, oh and there’s also Daniel Brühl who’s terrific in everything.

 


So what are some of YOUR favorite HELEN MIRREN’s cinematic roles?

Week in Review: Eye in the Sky (2016) and Netflix’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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How’s your weekend everyone? Well, it’s another warm weekend so I spent most of Saturday outside w/ hubby. I had one press screening this week, Eye in the Sky, and thankfully it’s not another bomb like London Has Fallen.

It turns out to be a double Helen Mirren week with her latest film and one of the last three Sam Riley films I haven’t seen yet, Brighton Rock (2010). She had a pretty big part in the film and she’s wonderful as always. It’s gratifying to see him as the lead AND held his own against such a screen icon like Dame Mirren (review upcoming).

So here’s my reviews of the two I saw last week:

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Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

This is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast. The main cast is chock full of British thespians I love: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam and Iain Glen.

It turns out there’s more Austen connection as Colin ‘Mr Darcy’ Firth is listed as one of the producers! In any case, the film couldn’t be more different from a romantic period drama as it gets.

The film promos likens this to the nuclear war satire Dr Strangelove. Now, I wouldn’t say this has quite the impact of that masterpiece black comedy, but it certainly made us think about the cost of war in our times. With drone attacks becoming more prominent in recent years, and the fact that we can’t turn on the news and not hear about it, this topic is as timely as ever.

There are some genuinely tense moments in this cerebral thriller, and to use a military term, the ensemble cast fired on all cylinders and delivered a powerful performance. Dame Mirren is convincing as a conflicted military officer who had to navigate through such maddening protocols and bureaucracy in times of war. As the drone pilot, Aaron Paul perfectly conveyed his torment to balance his military duty and doing what is right. Glad to see Oscar nominee from Captain Philips Barkhad Abdi working again and though he didn’t have much lines here, the Somalian actor has quite a presence on screen.

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The film is far from perfect though. The way the CDE (collateral damage estimate) factor is handled, involving a 9-year-old girl selling bread just outside the gate of the terrorist compound being targeted, feels repetitive. I feel like director Gavin Hood hits us over the head with it, as if the audience were to slow to get the moral/political implication of the drone attack if the girl became a casualty.

I’m not sure that Hood also nails the tonal shift between drama, action and humor as smoothly as he could, either. The biting satire he tried to emulate from Kubrick’s antiwar film seems lost and the film seemed to descend into a farce. Thankfully he had assembled a phenomenal cast who still made the film work.

Despite the flaws though, I still think Eye in the Sky is a provocative film that lingers long after the end credits. It’s worth a watch just for Mirren and Rickman alone. It was still tough to watch Mr. Rickman on screen in his last film role he’s completed. He certainly had the most memorable line in the end, the only way he could… “Never tell a soldier he did not know the cost of war.” The way he delivered that line sent shivers down my spine.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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Still mourning the death of Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien returns to safeguard his sword, the Green Legend. Hades Dai, an underground warlord, sends his lieutenants to steal the sword , with plans to dominate the martial world. A young mysterious swords-woman and the hero with a past, Silent Wolf , comes to Shu Lien’s aid, together with a disparate band of warriors who still believe in the iron way of honor.

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This is the second movie to be released on Netflix at the same time as in theaters, just like Beast of No Nation. It premiered on Netflix two weeks ago but I hadn’t even seen its trailer. I also barely remember much about the first film, as this sequel is made 16 years after its release in 2001. I did remember that Michelle Yeoh‘s character Yu Shu Lien was in love with Chow Yun Fat‘s Li Mu Bai who died in the first film.

The legendary sword adorned with Jade gemstone once again is central in the story. Yu Shu Lien is tasked to guard it and it nearly cost her life when her carriage is attacked in the beginning of the film. The cinematography is absolutely striking from start to finish, just like The Assassin was from last year, but thankfully director Wo-Ping Yuen is not so indulgent in making the film more style over substance. Whereas that one seems too self-aware of its own beautiful imagery that it overpowers the story, this one actually serves the narrative well.

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I like how progressive this film is in terms of its treatment of women. Not only is Michelle Yeoh‘s character is a powerful woman and fighter, Natasha Liu Bordizzo‘s Snow Vase also has an intriguing character arc that’s pretty gratifying all the way to the end. Yes perhaps some of the acting, by Bordizzo in her debut role, and Harry Shum Jr. as Wei Fang, seem a bit stiff at times, but overall I think they fit their characters pretty well. The hint of romance also didn’t make me cringe, which is always a plus. Jason Scott Lee as the villain overacted a bit, though the hammy acting style plague most of the supporting cast as well.

Unlike the first film that’s shot in Mandarin, the fact that this is an American-Chinese production, the film’s shot in English and later dubbed in Mandarin. So it’s a bit jarring to hear Chinese-looking actors (some look obviously of mixed-heritage) speaking in various English accent, some American, some British. So I think that sacrifices authenticity and is also a bit distracting. I don’t know if that might explain the low rating (18% on Rotten Tomatoes) compared to the first one (97% RT score), which benefited from Ang Lee’s superior direction.

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It’s interesting to mention the Bruce Lee connection of the two main cast, as Jason Scott Lee played Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) and Donnie Yen played Bruce Lee’s master in the IP Man franchise. I wouldn’t let the low RT score discouraged you from seeing this though. Fans of martial arts films should be pleased with the Kung Fu action sequences. I ended up quite liking this, more so than The Assassin, even if it’s not perfect.

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So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think.