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July 18, 2008

Helen Mirren, Dame (1945): A Profile

Helen Mirren Cartoon

Helen Mirren (Dame): A Profile

Return to British Women Actors

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.


Film Title
Year of Production
Country of Production
The Age of Consent
Michael Powell

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

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

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

See Also Stars & Star Theory


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

March 17, 2008

Lindsay Anderson: 1923 – 1994

Lindsay Anderson (1923 - 1994)

He was the most thoughtful film-maker Britain has ever had. He wanted to think through, in private, in public, in print, on film, what films we should be making and how. Today there is a lot of talk about the need for "good" films. "Good" means those that make money; films that make money are "good": there is no place for thought.
I miss Lindsay. I miss the old bastard. We need him now. Mamoun Hassan

YouTube Extract from 'If'. Cafe scene expressing the interiority desire & imagination set against the realism of a transport caf. a fine example of Anderson's surrealistic tendencies


In many ways the enormous contribution of Lindsay Anderson to British Cinema is critically underwritten yet two of his feature films are present in the top 100 most popular British films . 'If' (1968) also won a Palme d'or in 1969. Anderson's contributions to cinema started as early as 1947 when he became a founder member of Sequence a critical film magazine based at Oxford University.  Anderson was also a key figure in the Free Cinema movement and again a key figure in the British New Wave of Social Realism which emerged at the end of the 1950s and continued until 1963. His film This Sporting Life (1963) is a memorable one from this period and like 'If' also figures in the British top 100 British films. Anderson also did a lot of work in the theatre and in TV which explains why his output of feature films is quite low. The key point is that his significance goes far beyond the films which he made although those were ones which most people would be proud of. 

Anderson behind a Camera

Anderson Where Art meets Cinema 

I'm always disappointed when critics complain about Anderson's Oh Dreamland (1953) as ' attack on the leisure habits' of the working class (Hedling, 1997 directors such as Malle p 180). It is clearly an attack upon those who exploit the desires of the British working classes in the name of 'popular', it needs to be compared with the surrealism of Humphrey Jennings who was a key inspiration for Anderson, indeed Anderson was to describe Jennings as the only poet British cinema had had up until that point. When Jennings features a British Kazoo band on a Sunday he is noting the surreality inherent in popular culture that is genuinely popular in a Gramscian sense of being developed by and for the people. Anderson's Oh Dreamland in an excoriating approach to the massification, expropriation and exploitation inherent within a commercialising postwar society which is industrialising 'popular culture'. 

Anderson was one of the founding members of Sequence an Oxford based film criticism magazine which ran between 1947 - 1951. Anderson, please note, was involved in writing film criticism before the worthies of Cahiers du Cinema. Anderson's Oh Dreamland was also prior to the work of the swelling of works leading to the French New Wave by directors such as Malle and Vadim. Britain played its role in the developments of European post-war cinema leading to many 'New Waves'. After Sequence ended Anderson continued with his critical role writing for Sight & Sound writing an important article on Humphrey Jennings for Example: Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings.

After playing an important role in the development of the Free Cinema Movement Anderson was integrally involved with the British New wave of social realist filmmaking. Some like Hedling (ibid) saw This Sporting Life as something of a shift towards a Griersonian educational realist approach, but there was too much dramatic intensity and a representation of the interiority of the miner turned rugby league star to be a purely naturalistic account. The narrative structure which was dependent upon flashbacks also was antipathetic to British documentarism of a Griersonian ilk. 

It wasn't until 1968 with 'If' that Anderson was to repeat and exceed his success with This Sporting Life. This was the first and most successful of his loose trilogy of films which included Oh Lucky Man (1973) and then Britannia Hospital (1982). These last films were never so popular as 'If' although all to some extent were films of their times as Gavin Lambert pointed out in his book Mainly About Lindsay Anderson (2000). Hassan's review article comments on this:

Maybe Lambert is right that the hostility to both films is due to Anderson holding up "a devastating mirror-image to Britain". But there is a problem with "the way it is said". The Brechtian alienating device adopted to make the audience "think" is difficult enough (how many films in that style have succeeded?) but the internal rhythm is not consistently dynamic. Swiftness of attack was called for. The dash, so evident in This Sporting Life , is not always there. (Hassan THES)

Although Hassan has noted the Brechtian approach which ensures that the viewer is distanciated rather than alienated ( abetter translation of verfremdungseffekt) somehow the mood of the country had changed. The long boom had ended, sixties optimism and radicalisation, which 'if' represented so brilliantly, was on the wane. The Conservative Party under moderniser Ted Heath had regained power between 1970-1974. The period was marked by increasing inflation and economic unrest including two miner's strikes culminating in the three-day week. 

Hedling points out that the critical mood of film studies represented by the work around Screen had also changed. It was strongly Althusserian / Lacanian emphasising a structuralist-Marxist approach which was antithetical to Anderson's more humanist approach as well as being critical of Brechtianism wanting more of a critical engagement with 'popular' cinema. Across the board then Anderson was losing his audience. Britannia Hospital was made into the teeth of a Thatcherite storm which saw the Falklands War start in March 1982. As a film of the left Britannia Hospital was never going to get a look in in the mainstream.

His last two films as a director Foreign Skies (1986) & The Whales of August  (US 1987) appear to have sunk into critical abyss.

Andrson's contributions have still continued throught the tradition of the British art film for both Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway have paid tribute to Anderson. But Anderson's strength when at his best was the ability to bridge the gap between the "Art Film" and popular film which appealed to wider audiences. He both contributed to and was influenced by the overlaps of art cinema and the popular which also had a critical edge. Britain in the 1960s perhaps led the way in this with Films like: The Servant; A Hard Days Night; Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment; The Charge of the Light Brigade all being a part of this wider movement.   

Theatrical Work

This section isn't intended to be complete but included as an indicator of Anderson's versatility. Anderson was involved with producing many of the most radical of the British plays being writtenin the late 1950s and and early 1960s, such as: Willis Hall's The Long the Short and the Tall; John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance; Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar. This last play was of course turned into the last of the social realist films of the British New Wave by John Schlesinger. Its content brilliantly representing Britain on the cusp of changing from the tale end of austerity Britain to London of the 'Swinging Sixties' and the mood shift in the population marked by the return of the Labour Government of Harold Wilson in 1964. 

In Celebration

In Celebration, by David Storey
(Andrew) 22.iv.69, Royal Court Theatre, London
directed by Lindsay Anderson
American Film Theatre film, 1975, directed by Lindsay Anderson



The Lindsay Andrson Archive @ Stirling University. This is an excellent site and should be a very early port of call for anybody interested in Lindsay Anderson. 

Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

BFI Feature. Lindsay Anderson interviews Satyajit Ray at the NFT 1969 or 1970

Free Cinema Movement  

Screenonline Biography of Lindsay Anderson  from Brian MacFarlane 

Screenonline Credits for Lindsay Anderson  

Lindsay Very useful website developing knowledge and connectivity about Anderson 

Never Apologize (2007)  Directed by Mike Kaplan, whose friendship with McDowell began on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and who produced Anderson’s last feature film, The Whales of August  (Cannes, 1987)

Mamoun Hassan in The Times Higher Education: The virgin queen and his progeny


Hedling, Erik. 1997. 'Lindsay Anderson and the Development of British Art Cinema'. In Murphy, Robert. 1997. The British Cinema Book. London: BFI

Hedling, Erik. 2003.  'Sequence and the rise of Auteurism in 1950s Britain'.  MacKillop Ian & Sinyard Neil. British Cinema in the 1950s: A celebration. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lambert, Gavin. 2000. Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: a Memoir. London: Faber
and Faber,

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