Thursday, November 09, 2006

A salute to Helen Mirren

I realize I'm far from alone in pointing out the greatness of Helen Mirren, but the biggest news I could find this morning is that she is coming back to PBS in "Prime Suspect: The Final Act" starting this Sunday.

You Brits out there may have already seen this one, which apparently has her Jane Tennison battling her biggest baddie yet: The bottle. It sounds kinda depressing, but then I've never tuned in to the great "Prime Suspect" series for a pick-me-up.

They actually showed a trailer for "The Queen" in front of "Borat" this weekend, so I'm cautiously optomistic that we will get Mr. Frears' flick in my little corner of the world sometime before she takes home the Oscar.

In the meantime, a look at my five favorite performances by my favorite actress:

5. "Gosford Park": Though Julian Fellowes rightly won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this murder mystery, director Robert Altman also should have gotten more credit. It's one of his best among many great ensemble pieces, and Helen Mirren stands out in a cast full of British heavyweights as Mrs. Wilson, the head of the domestic staff at the stuffy Gosford Park estate.

4. "The Madness of King George" This is one is mostly a showcase for the comedic talents of the late, great Nigel Hawthorne, but Ms. Mirren still finds moments to shine in his shadow, because we all know that every crazy king needs a foil and an enabler.

3. "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" Before he became obsessed with Rembrandt, director Peter Greenaway made a series of flicks that were as expressive as paintings. Though it often verged on (and sometimes crossed over to) the realm of the truly gross, this one's still a feast for the senses, and Richard Bohringer and Helen Mirren clearly had a lot of fun making it.

2. "Some Mother's Son" How is that you can now get every possible season of "Saved by the Bell" on DVD, but you can't get this great little IRA flick anywhere? It's the best of Terry George and Jim Sheridan's flicks about "the troubles," and Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan deliver solid performances as the mothers of two men caught up in the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands at the notorious Long Kesh prison. I know Daniel Day Lewis' "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot" get more attention in this series of flicks, but if you can find a copy of "Some Mother's Son," I can't recommend it highly enough.

1. Prime Suspect Though I put "Homicide: Life on the Street" a notch above this one in the arena of cop shows, they're in close company, which from me is a very high complement. Policing has never been more political than in the saga of Detective Inspector Jane Tennison, easily Helen Mirren's best performance. She has played the gritty but very vulnerable cop through seven miniseries now, and they've never gotten old.

If I had to pick one favorite, it would have to be Prime Suspect 2, in which she's knocking boots with Colin Salmon as she's on the trail of the murderer of a young black girl in London. If you need an introduction into this great series, this is where I would recommend to start.

And Sunday, starting at 9 on PBS, she'll finally hang up her badge with Prime Suspect, The Final Act. At least, she might. Thankfully, she hasn't completely closed the door on the story of Jane Tennison. As she told the New York Times about another Prime Suspect, “I don’t think so, no, I don’t think so. You should never say no because it can come back and bite you. But I don’t think so, I don’t think so.”

Sounds like a door ajar to me, but even if it never opens again, I'll follow Helen Mirren just about anywere.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Queen is great--I hope you get it on the big screen, but it'll translate to the small just as well. It is obviously all about Mirren, but its kinda eerie how you forget that its even her. And speaking of Greenaway, what the heck's he been up to?
The last one of his was, what, the Pillow Book?

Dubs said...

I'm a huge fan, can't wait to see The Queen.

Reel Fanatic said...

I was wondering the same thing, Jeremy, but I found the answer in the Reijksmuseum in Amsterdam ... He has spent several years now on an installation at the museum called "Nightwatching" which is a multimedia presentation built around the Rembrandt painting ... And, just to prove he is nothing if not obsessed, he's now apparently working on a Rembrandt biopic

Annie in Austin said...

I'm crazy about Helen Mirren, too, also thinking "Gosford Park" is in the top five. When we first saw "Excalibur" back in 1981, her portrayal of Morgana turned me into a lifetime fan. We didn't get to "The Queen", yet - sure hope it comes to your theaters!

Have you ever seen the 1968 version of "Midsummer Night's Dream"? The large cast features Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg in the ingenue roles, and a quite different Judi Dench as Titania. It's only on videotape, not DVD, but it's so interesting to see Helen Mirren when she's young and vulnerable. There's also a fun 1981 version, when Helen Mirren is gauzily gorgeous as Titania.

Annie the Austin Garden Blogger

Anonymous said...

I think I would throw her portrayal of Morgana in Excalibur in there, too.

Reel Fanatic said...

I haven't seen that, Annie, so thanks for the head's up!

marina said...

"The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" was the first time I ever saw Mirren and then I didn't see her again until Prime Suspect while I was flipping through channels one day.

The woman is brilliant and the Oscar will certainly be well deserved.

Reel Fanatic said...

It will be indeed, Marina ... I'm still waiting to see both that one and Penelope Cruz in "Volver" ... that should be a tight race!

Divinity said...

Going to see The Queen this weekend! And Stranger Than Fiction. And maybe A Good Year. I could be wasting my time on those last two, but I know The Queen will be a sure bet...
Annie, was Helen Mirren playing Titania? Or Helena or Hermia? I'm confused.

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SamuraiFrog said...

Helen Mirren played Hermia. And Judi Dench played a lovely and often naked Titania.

Man, I love Helen Mirren. Is "Age of Consent" ever going to reach DVD?

Reel Fanatic said...

I just can't bring myself to see "A Good Year," Divinity ... The idea of Russell Crowe inheriting a home in France so he can "find himself" just sounds thoroughly unentertaining to me

Divinity said...

I was a sucker for "Under the Tuscan Sun" so I'll probably be a sucker for this very similar gender-switched storyline. I don't pay for my movies at this theatre so it's only time I'm losing... :)

DarkoV said...

Hey!
That's Dame Helen Mirren to you buddy. And step back and give her room to breath like royalty.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're certainly right, Darkov ... My bad!

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

I canna *wait* to see this new PSuspect. I hope it's good! I don't think they really all have been good, but I am optimistic about this one for some reason. I still get all breathless thinkin about how good #1 was, for instance. And she was a large part of it. I'd pay to watch Helen M dial a phone, frankly!

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

p.s. I totally agree about Gosford Park--that movie has only grown on me, and I have decided that the ending, with the contrast between Kristin Scott-Thomas' cavalier description of the feud and Mirren's cool confession/final breakdown is genius.

Reel Fanatic said...

This Prime Suspect is going to be hard to watch, Elizabeth, because from what I've heard Jane Tennison battles alcoholism in a truly brutal way ... that said, it should give Helen another chance to shine, and I'm sure she'll grab it and run

Elizabeth M. Tamny said...

"brutal way"...that means barf scenes, doesn't it

Reel Fanatic said...

It probably does, Elizabeth, but if even so, I'm still certain Dame Mirren will make it a joy to watch

Annie in Austin said...

My husband claims I confuse him, too - sorry if I did that to you, Divinity. I've seen Helen Mirren in two different versions of "Midsummer Night's Dream". In the 1968 version Helen Mirren was Hermia. In the 1981 version she was Titania.

In 1968 Judi Dench was not only almost naked but slightly green!

Annie the Austin Garden Blogger

Lori said...

Helen Mirren kicks a**. I'm with Mercurie, though...I have to say her Morgana in 'Excalibur' is my fave...followed closely by her turn in '2010.' She made a great Russian cosmonaut...I totally bought it.

Reel Fanatic said...

Excalibur almost made my list ... She definitely rules in that one too

Christspeak Rx said...

...one of my favorite women. loved her as Elisabeth, (though I was disappointed with part 2). great site- i'll be back!

Jo said...

Some Mother's Son - What a movie! Didn't know more details about Helen. I remember watching "Some Mother's Son" in a friend's house. Lucky him, coz he got a copy of it. As you said there are many movies thats not available anymore.

Reel Fanatic said...

I've been able to find almost all of them that I've wanted, Jo, but not that one, which just confounds me because it was such a critical success and just an all-around entertaining movie

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