All entries for Friday 18 July 2008

July 18, 2008

Helen Mirren, Dame (1945): A Profile

Helen Mirren Cartoon


Helen Mirren (Dame): A Profile


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See Also Stars & Star Theory




Dame Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren becomes a Dame: 2003


Helen Mirren was born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff the daughter of an exiled Russian Aristocrat and an English mother in Chiswick. She went to school in Southend and became involved in drama there but faced parental discouragement from entering the acting profession. Her first major role came in 1965 playing Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra at The Old Vic. As a result she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). She played Cressida in Troilus & Cressida whilst there. In 1969 she appeared in Michael Powell's last feature film The Age of Consent. Also in 1979 Mirren appeared in the trashy Caligua sexploitation movie from Tinto Brass. 

1972, aged 27, she joined Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Research in France, and joined the group's tour across north Africa, which created The Conference of the Birds. Mirren was in Lindsay Anderson's experimental  O Lucky Man! (1974). In the theatre she played Lady Macbeth in Trevor Nunn's 1974 production of Macbeth at Stratford. In 1979 she played the gangster's 'moll' in the The Long Good Friday: Mackenzie. Mirren Cleopatra again with the RSC in the early Eighties, opposite Michael Gambon. She was nominated for a Best Actress Olivier award in 1983. In 1984 she went to Hollywood where she made White Nights, directed by Taylor Hackford, her lover whom she later married in 1997.

During the 1990s she played opposite Michael Gambon in Peter Greenaway's art-house film The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and Her Lover. This was a role which she considered rather 'dangerous' as she explained to Robert Ebert in a 1990 interview:

"Well, yes, it is a dangerous film. It's deep and complex and we're not skating around any issues. It's on the cutting edge, quite apart from the content - look at the style of the filmmaking, the artificiality of it, the strangeness of the dialogue. I knew it was dangerous, but I didn't think it was that dangerous. You know, that X-rated thing, because that's a different kind of thing altogether...
It gets into a dangerous, dangerous area, and people come out thinking they have confronted something in themselves. It's a challenge. It would be irresponsible to use the material in this film for simple commercialism. Our film doesn't manipulate. Greenaway does a lot of things to put a distance between the actions and the style. The movie's clearly artificial, for example. My costume changes colour according to the different locations - red in the dining room, green in the kitchen, white in the toilet. It's crazily artificial...


She then landed the role of DCI Tennison in the highly successful Prime Suspect series by Lynda La Plante from 1991-2006. She has also been Imogen in the BBC Shakespeare adaptation of Cybeline. Another successful film role was as Queen Caroline in The Madness of King George opposite Nigel Hawthorne. In 2001 she appeared in Last Orders with Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins and she also played an important role in Robert Altman's Gosford Park released on that year. Mirren was also one of many leading British actresses to appear in Calendar Girls (2003) based upon the true life story of members of the women's Institute who did a striptease for a cancer charity.

She was awarded the status of Dame in the New Years' honours list of December 2003. This was on the basis of over 25 years of very conributions across the range of media platfoms including Theatre and Television as well as film.  Dame Helen received Oscar nominations for the Madness Of King George in 1994 and for Gosford Park in 2001. In 2005 she played Elizabeth the First in Channel Four's two part series winning an Emmy. She finally received full Oscar recognition for her role in Stephen Frears' The Queen 2006. She is now considered as one of the UKs greatest character actresses.

Helen Mirren Courts Controversy in 2008

no means no cartoon


Helen Mirren is no stranger to controversy as she is renowned for being an actress who has been willing to take her clothes off in the past when it was rather less common that it is now however she entered new territory when she made some comments about 'Date Rape'. That these rather contradictory comments are important is becuase she has been such an influential actress including having a long-term role as a police inspector on a TV series. Furthermore she has now become something of an establishment pillar. The controversial comments emerged in an interview with GQ which is a pretty tawdry magazine at the best of times and one wonders why Mirren bothered to be interviewed by them. Was she flattered by the opportunity to be a sex-symbol age 63 for the twenty to thirty something blokes who read GQ. Mirren understands the importance of celebrity status as Oxfam claim her for an Ambassador to Oxfam in 1998 for example. One would have expected a rather more though out and carfeful response form Mirren in these circumstances.

Helen Mirren came out rather surprisingly with some very controversial comments about so-called "Date Rape".  In a rather contradictory fashion she has first of all that this has happened to her in the past saying that she was locked in a room and was forced to have sex. This is clearly classed as rape under current British law. Zoe Williams in the Guardian was justifiably scathing and the Independent comments are below:

She pulls no punches in her account of what happened when she was forced to have sex at the end of dates in her late teens and twenties when she moved to London. There was not, she says, "excessive violence". She was not hit. But she was "locked in a room and made to have sex against my will". (Independent 2nd September 2008)

The Independent then points out her contradictory follow up to her personal story:

But for all that, she insists that, although it was rape, the men involved should not necessarily be considered rapists in a criminal sense. She even raised doubts about the case of the boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of raping a Miss Black America contestant in a hotel room in 1992, concluding: "It's such a tricky area isn't it? Especially if there is no violence. I mean, look at Mike Tyson. I don't think he was a rapist." But for all that, she insists that, although it was rape, the men involved should not necessarily be considered rapists in a criminal sense. She even raised doubts about the case of the boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of raping a Miss Black America contestant in a hotel room in 1992, concluding: "It's such a tricky area isn't it? Especially if there is no violence. I mean, look at Mike Tyson. I don't think he was a rapist." (Independent 2nd September 2008)


It appears that Mirren said something that would appeal to the 20 -30 something male audience of GQ and didn't want to say somethng controversial for that target audience. Would she have come out with such ridiculous and damaging comments in a Grazia interview? I don't think so. At the end of the day sex has to be between consenting adults whatever the circumstances. After many years the law is clear on this.  At the end of the day no means no, which a man may find disappointing but there are worse things that can happen to you than not having sex to parpahrase a Fay Weldon comment. It might be better in future if Mirren keeps her thoughts to herself and sticks to somebody elses lines. Most 'Celebs' aren't reknowned for their brilliance at navigating controversy (or even sentences) and Mirren has proved to be no exception!

Update: since writing the above sarcastic comment I have discovered an earlier story from the BBC when Mirren first came out the fact that she had been date raped. Her comments in 2003 are very different to the ones made to GQ.

"I was being pursued by them purely for sex and absolutely nothing else," she said, adding that she came to regard men as "so vile and so cruel and alien and nasty".

She said: "I felt most men despised me as a person... it was like I was a piece of meat. In the end I realised that guys really were capable of this." (BBC 2003 Mirren Date Rape Story


This shift in attitude seems to suport the point that Mirren is perfectly capable of changing her tune according to the media organisation interviewing her. Can you see GQ publishing these comments? Take the money and run Helen but you seem to have lost a lot of fans!

Guardian Letters Link Here

The Long Good Friday (1979)


mirren and Hoskins The long good Friday

Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday (1979)


The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). Dir Peter Greenaway


Mirren The Cook The Thief 1


Mirren The Cook The thief 2

Helen Mirren as the Thief's wife in Greenaway's The Cook The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover


The Madness of King George (1992). Directed Nicholas Hytner


Mirren and Hawthorn Madness of KG 2


Helen Mirren as Queen Caroline with Nigel Hawthorne as George III in The Madness of King George

Gosford Park (2001) Robert Altman

mirren gosford park

Helen Mirren as the housekeeper on Altman's Gosford Park (2001)


Calendar Girls (2003)


calendar Girls 1


all Star calandar Girls





The Queen (2006) Directed Stephen Frears


Mirren The Queen 1


Forthcoming Film Role

It was announced in September 2008 that Helen Mirren has been cast in the role of a Mossad agent in a film calld The Debt. The director has been named as John Madden who has previously made Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown. Madden has previously worked with Helen Mirren on the TV series Prime Suspect.


Filmography



Film Title
Year of Production
Director
Producer
Country of Production
The Age of Consent
1969
Michael Powell

Australia
Oh Lucky Man
1973
Lindsay Anderson
Memorial Enterprises
UK
The Long Good Friday
1979 (Released 1980)
John Mackenzie
Handmade Films bought the rights from Black Lion for £850k
UK
Excalibur
1981
John Boorman
Orion Picture Corporation
UK/ USA
The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover
1989
Peter Greenaway

France / UK
Madness of King  George
1994
Nicholas Hytner
Channel Four & The Samuel Goldwyn Company
UK/USA
Last Orders
2001
Fred Schepisi
Future Films
UK / Germany
Gosford Park
2001
Robert Altman

UK / Germany / US
Calendar Girls
2003
Nigel Cole
Touchstone
UK / USA
The Queen 2006 Stephen Frears
UK / France / Italy
The Debt
Forthcomng
John Madden



See Also Stars & Star Theory


Webliography


Daily Telegraph 20 /01/ 08. Interview with Lucy Cavendish


Andrew Walker BBC News Profiles 2003.  Helen Mirren and Becoming a Dame


BBC 2004 Mirren get role as The Queen


Helen Mirren wins Best Actress for The Queen at the Oscars


Independent: 'Helen Mirren Queen of the Screen'


December 2003 BBC Helen Mirren receives New Year honour


Mirren in Mourning Becomes Electra play by Eugene O'Neill


Mirren on not having children

Calendar Girls draws record crowd at Locarno Film Festival

Northern Premiere of Calendar Girls

Guardian report on Helen Mirren 'Date Rape' comments in GQ

BBC:Mirren on Date Rape and Cocaine

Helen Mirren & Oxfam

Times of India Report on strong critical response to Mirren's 'date rape' comments


Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley

Return to British Women Actors


See Also Stars & Star Theory


Introduction

Star fever is clearly rampant in the case of Keira Knightley. Despite the fact that in Atonement many of the serious critics rather thought she was put in the shade by James McAvoy something I'm in agreement with. Her global reception is quite extraordinary with over 9.2 million Google hits on an initial search (21 / 07/ 08). This means that researching this there is a lot of drivel to search through however this does make me think that things haven't moved on from Adorno's day in the Culture Industry when it comes to film stars.  But Walsh in the Independent thinks that this is perhaps her best performance yet:

Knightley gives Vera an independence and complexity that's aeons ahead of the spunky pirate babe Elizabeth Swann or the crosspatch aristocrat Cecilia Tallis in Atonement. (Walsh, Independent, 19 / 06 / 08)


The Times online carries a story about how Knightley's mother is rejecting rumours being spread about whether Keira has anorexia or not. Nowadays star status means instant commentary whizzing around the internet. For a woman actor is appears as though their body is their primary asset. Take Walsh's comments from the Independent which create a discourse of 'sexiness' around a star:

Keira Knightley's astounding physiognomy.....Within 20 seconds, every male heart on the platform (and in the cinema) becomes her devoted slave, as her eyes and lips and hair and skin and voice construct a sensory web of enchantment. (Ibid)

The way the comment is phrased is a fine example of what Laura Mulvey has described as the 'male gaze' which, if we extend the concept beyond the confines of the cinema itself to the critical and fan community,  shows us how a discourse of a star can be maintained. whether or not she can act seems besides the point.




Bend it like Beckham

Knightley Bend it Like Beckham


Parminder Nagra & Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham (2002). Gurinder Chadha


Pirates of the Caribbean


Knighley and Bloom Pirates


Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom in The Pirates of the Caribbean series



Knightley and Depp Pirates

Kiera Knightley & Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean series


Pride & Prejudice

Knightley Pride and Prejudice

Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice (2005). Dir:  Joe Wright

Pride and Prejudice 2

Keira Knightley & Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. 2005  Dir:  Joe Wright




Atonement

Knightley Atonement 1

Keira Knightley in Atonement (2007). Dir: Joe Wright


Knightley and McEvoy Atonement

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in Atonement (2007). Dir: Joe Wright



The Edge of Love



Knightley and Miller Edge 1



Knightley and Miller Edge 2

Kiera Knightley & Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love (2008) Dir: John Maybury




The Duchess 2008

Shooting The Duchess

Shooting The Duchess 2008


...but the film is let down by a central performance from Knightley which overly emphasises her increasingly-annoying tendency to let her lips do the acting - tightly pursed equals unhappy or determined, open means `look at me, aren't I vivacious'.(Manchester Evening News Review of The Duchess)


Facing Fiennes, the junior cast, like lambs to the slaughter, go to pieces. Knightley gives great profile (just as she gave great close-up in Edge of Love); Dominic Cooper plays her lover, Charles Grey, as a one-note automaton; while Haley Atwell’s strumpet Bess is wonderful at saucy stares but struggles with the spoken word. In short, Fiennes: 4, Kids: Nil. (Timesonline Review of Duchess)


Filmography (British films)


Film Title

Year of Production

Director
Production Company
Country of Production





Bend it Like Beckham
2002
Gurinder Chadha






















Pride and Prejudice
2005
Joe Wright
Working Title
Atonement
2007
Joe Wright Working Title
UK
Edge of Love
2008 John Maybury
BBC Films
UK
The Duchess
2008
Saul Dibb





Webliography

Channel Four viewable interview for 6 minutes on the Duchess

Independent review with Keira Knightley on her role in The Edge of Love

Independent. Knightley and Pirates of the Caribbean 2006

Keira Knightley's mother Sharman MacDonald on being the scriptwriter of  The Edge of Love

Polly Vernon Observer 2002 interview with Keira Knightley on Bend it Like Beckham

Guardian Knightley for Oscar in The Duchess?

This is Nottingham: Knightley The Duchess of Devonshire @ Chatsworth House

Guardian: Knightley to play scandalous role

Guardian: Wollaston interview with Knightley (Aug 2008): Not especially deep and meaningful. Clearly part of the film's pre-release marketing strategy.

BBC Knightley Interview Pirates of the Caribbean

BBC Pride & Predjudice Interview

Telegraph: The Duchess and Diana: Kindred Spirits?

Telegraph on Knightley's anger at role being compared to Diana in The Duchess

Time Out interview with Saul Dibb on The Duchess

Telegraph article on Knightley's agreement to play in intimate scenes in The Duchess and her attitude to nude acting in general.

BBC Woman's Hour Knightley Interview (Currently available on Listen Again)

BBC August 2007 on Knightley in Atonement

Daily Mail interview with Knightley. Discusses her dyslexia and lack of education as she dropped out of colege before taking A levels.

Hadley Freeman (Guardian) on Knightly and Photo-posingitus. Witty.

Timesonline. Knightley interview. Says wants to drop acting as pressure too great. (2007)

Timesonline. Review of The Duchess (2008)

Guardian Podcast of Maybury interview

BBC: Knightley Stars at Duchess Launch

The Duchess Official Website





Return to British Women Actors

See Also Stars & Star Theory


Women & Film Hub Page

Women & Film Hub Page

Introduction


The position of women in the world in terms of poverty and health is far worse than that of men. Even in advanced industrial societies gender inequalities are still powerful markers of society. This is why it is important to research aspects of this gender imbalance in terms of power, health and wealth and try to ensure that inequalities are gradually eradicated. film has a special responsibility to get it right becuase the industry is itself arguably partially responsible through its structures of representation of women for the maintainence of the status quo in terms of gender and power.

The representation of women in terms of who represents them and how they are represented, the position of women within the film industry and many other aspects of gender relations and the construction and maintenance of these relations in terms of power, status and cultural capital have formed an extremely important part of Film Studies and Cultural Studies as well as crossing over into media and communications studies geography, sociology art and architecture and related subject areas. In most countries where there is some sort of film industry the issue of national cultural policy and local industrial policy are also extremely important. If funding and support isn't made available to women to help them make the films they want to then representation of society and the concept of citizenship itself will be all the more fragile. It is very important that national governments and supranational institutions (such as the EU) have policies in place within cinema that ensure that gender citizenship standards in terms of cultural output and production are egalitarian.

For those researching or just generally interested in cinema and gender this will hopefully be a helpful page helping to organise some lines of thougth and providing some links to follow that through. This list of entires should gradually be lengthening over time.


Kinoeye Women & Film Links


Women and New German Cinema: The Institutional Marginalising of Women


New German Cinema Directors


Women and Film: Research Findings Essay


Women and British Cinema: Some avenues for research


British Women Film Actors


Non–British Women Actors in British Cinema



British Women Film directors


Jill Craigie (1911–1999)


Sally Potter Webliography


Women & Film: The Representation of Women in the World Today


Stars and Star Theory


Laura Mulvey and The Male Gaze


Moreau, Bardot, Karina, Deneuve: Women Stars of the French New Wave


Lilya 4–ever, 2002. Dir. Lucas Moodysson


Making a Genre Reading of Thelma & Louise


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