All entries for Friday 18 July 2008
July 18, 2008
Helen Mirren (Dame): A Profile
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
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!
The Long Good Friday (1979)
Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday (1979)
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). Dir Peter Greenaway
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
Helen Mirren as Queen Caroline with Nigel Hawthorne as George III in The Madness of King George
Gosford Park (2001) Robert Altman
Helen Mirren as the housekeeper on Altman's Gosford Park (2001)
Calendar Girls (2003)
The Queen (2006) Directed Stephen Frears
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.
||Year of Production
||Country of Production
|The Age of Consent
|Oh Lucky Man
|The Long Good Friday
||1979 (Released 1980)
||Handmade Films bought the rights from Black Lion for £850k
||Orion Picture Corporation
|The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover
||France / UK
|Madness of King George
||Channel Four & The Samuel Goldwyn Company
||UK / Germany
||UK / Germany / US
||UK / USA
|The Queen||2006||Stephen Frears||UK / France / Italy
Helen Mirren wins Best Actress for The Queen at the Oscars
Times of India Report on strong critical response to Mirren's 'date rape' comments
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
Parminder Nagra & Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham (2002). Gurinder Chadha
Pirates of the Caribbean
Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom in The Pirates of the Caribbean series
Kiera Knightley & Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean series
Pride & Prejudice
Keira Knightley & Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. 2005 Dir: Joe Wright
The Edge of Love
Kiera Knightley & Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love (2008) Dir: John Maybury
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)
Year of Production
||Country of Production
|Bend it Like Beckham
|Pride and Prejudice
||Joe Wright||Working Title
|Edge of Love
Keira Knightley's mother Sharman MacDonald on being the scriptwriter of The Edge of Love
Guardian: Wollaston interview with Knightley (Aug 2008): Not especially deep and meaningful. Clearly part of the film's pre-release marketing strategy.
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)
Daily Mail interview with Knightley. Discusses her dyslexia and lack of education as she dropped out of colege before taking A levels.
Timesonline. Knightley interview. Says wants to drop acting as pressure too great. (2007)
Women & Film Hub Page
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
Moreau, Bardot, Karina, Deneuve: Women Stars of the French New Wave