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Helen Mirren is one of the best-known and most respected actresses in the world. In a career that spans over 50 years, she has worked across theatre, film and television, and has won many awards for her powerful and versatile performances.


In this South Bank Show film, she talks to Melvyn Bragg about her life and work, from her Anglo-Russian ancestry to her early discovery of Shakespeare as a child, and her decision to audition for the National Youth Theatre at the age of seventeen.


The film shows Helen in her early twenties, at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and traces her rapid trajectory as one of the finest classical actresses of her time. Melvyn and Helen discuss how the RSC became Helen’s drama school, and taught her to master the rhythm and poetry of Shakespeare in her performances.


Whilst Helen’s stage career went from strength to strength, it was not until she was in her early 30s that she announced herself as a major screen presence, with her performance in the gangster thriller, The Long Good Friday. Melvyn talks to Helen about how she adapted and rewrote elements of the role of Victoria in the film, working closely with Bob Hoskins to give the female character a stronger presence in the narrative. 


The film also explores Helen’s career in television drama, in some depth, focusing on her performance as DCU Jane Tennison in Lynda la Plante’s ground-breaking television drama Prime Suspect, which won her multiple BAFTA Awards. Helen talks to Melvyn about why the role was unique at the time, and how she chose to best portray Jane Tennison’s inner strength and outward emotions. She also discusses her performance as the ‘Virgin Queen’ in Channel 4’s period drama, Elizabeth I, which won her numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe. 


The final section of the programme focuses on the film, The Queen, in some depth. Helen’s portrayal of Elizabeth II in the 2005 film won her huge acclaim, including an Oscar for Best Actress, and she discusses how she felt about taking on the role initially, and what research and techniques she used to best portray the monarch.

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Producer/ Director: Suzannah Wander

Executive Producers: Melvyn Bragg and Cathy Haslam

DOP: Ian Watts

Directors Cut Productions 60 mins for Sky Arts

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