Helen Mirren: everywhere and nowhere

Posted by · 5:43 pm · October 19th, 2010

Amid the club of stars surfacing in two or more 2010 releases — Leonardo DiCaprio, Annette Bening, Chloe Moretz, and so on — has anyone been more ineffectually ubiquitous than Helen Mirren? The 65 year-old Brit has been working steadily since her Oscar win nearly four years ago, but apparently cracked the secret of human cloning this year, turning up in no fewer than six titles. (Seven if you count “The Last Station,” which most civilians only laid eyes on in 2010.)

As much as this looks like a banner year for the actress on paper, however, her strike rate has been bewilderingly low. Brothel-madam biopic “Love Ranch,” directed by her husband Taylor Hackford, flunked with critics and audiences back in June, while “The Tempest,” her would-be highbrow awards bid, met with widespread scorn at the Venice and New York festivals.

Two other adult-oriented dramas were left in limbo at Toronto, with John Madden’s “The Debt” booted to 2011, while “Brighton Rock” — for which Mirren ceded the critical spotlight to newcomer Andrea Riseborough — still languishes without a US distributor.

In other words, depending on your affection for a certain animated owl flick currently in theaters, the high point of Helen Mirren’s 2010 looks to be Robert Schwentke’s unevenly reviewed comic book movie “Red.” Who saw that coming? And at the start of the year, who would have guessed that with five sizable performances in the wings, the woman so revered by her peers that she even cracked a nod for shrieky scenery-chewing in “The Last Station” would have Oscar buzz for precisely none of them?

Of course, she’s not the first fine actor to have one of those years that just doesn’t come together. Everyone had 2008 pegged as The Year of Viggo Mortensen… until it wasn’t. Back in 2001, Cate Blanchett was in a million places at once, yet still never quite caught fire. A year like this still amounts to great thespian exercise for a pro like Mirren, but at this elevated stage in her career, she can afford to be choosier.

That would also appear to be the message behind David Thomson’s recent celebration of the actress for The Guardian, in which he effuses over both her screen presence and her work ethic — but suggests that she could challenge herself more, perhaps starting with another regendered Shakespeare lead:

[I]t’s worth thinking of stern challenges. A Queen Lear would not be insane but Mirren would have to go crazy for it. She could play Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or Pushkin’s Queen of Spades – the role Edith Evans once played. We should not forget that the affable and professional Helen Mirren is of Russian blood, and may nurse a wintry scorn for restraint, mercy and other white lies. Surely she’s ready for a complete breakdown – for herself or for everyone else – in a movie.

Beyond her variously postponed efforts from Toronto, we’ll next see Mirren reteamed with her “Tempest” co-star Russell Brand, filling John Gielgud’s Oscar-winning shoes in a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore comedy “Arthur.” Something tells me that’s not what Thomson has in mind.

[Photo: Summit Entertainment]

→ 22 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

22 responses so far

  • 1 10-19-2010 at 7:40 pm

    Joe said...

    Perhaps she could be choosier, but the other way to look at it is that she has nothing left to prove. If she wants to have some fun, why not let her?

  • 2 10-19-2010 at 8:18 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Again you deductively write off Mirren’s “Last Station” performance, which is a lot better than you’re giving it credit for.

  • 3 10-20-2010 at 12:30 am

    Marshall1 said...

    I agree with Joe’s point of view. Yes, Mirren should find challenging roles, but some of the roles she probably think was challenging. Also, most of the roles for women over 50 is snatched by Streep (LOL). She’s pay her due, and maybe she just wanna have some fun and cash her paycheque? However, what challenging roles could we find for Mirren?

  • 4 10-20-2010 at 4:45 am

    Glenn said...

    It’s similar to in Blanchett’s 2001 it was “Bandits” that gained to most traction and praise.

  • 5 10-20-2010 at 5:59 am

    Hero said...

    If they could get equally good costars, Mary Tyrone would be brilliant!

  • 6 10-20-2010 at 6:12 am

    JJ1 said...

    Well, I loved The Last Station, and I really liked Red. 2 per year ain’t bad in my eyes. Everyone I know who’s seen Legends of the Guardians at least found it to be an insanely gorgeous experience. And she was solid in last year’s 84% rated State of Play. So, I wouldn’t say she’s doing bad, haha.

    That said, she is taken an awful lot on, and a couple of those films look to be major misses (that wouldn’t have on paper).

  • 7 10-20-2010 at 6:14 am

    Zack said...

    First off, I’m not gonna lie, I loved “Legends of the Guardians” (it was certainly better than “300”); I don’t have any problem in general with people following up Oscars with more commercially viable material. That said, it’s kinda disappointing that she appears to be going for “classically-trained Betty White”. And it’s even more so when you consider Joe Pesci came out of retirement for a misfire.

  • 8 10-20-2010 at 6:35 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “classically-trained Betty White”

    I take my hat off to you, sir.

  • 9 10-20-2010 at 6:57 am

    Alex said...

    OMG… Helen Mirren playing Queen Lear ftw.

  • 10 10-20-2010 at 9:15 am

    Everett said...

    Then again, on paper this looked like it might be the year of Jay Baruchel, and…it definitely isn’t.

  • 11 10-20-2010 at 11:14 am

    Eric said...

    God I hope Brighton Rock finds a distributor and campaigns her.

  • 12 10-20-2010 at 11:31 am

    Doug said...

    What’s with the snarky article??

    I think Joe is spot on. Why can’t she have a bit of fun sometimes instead of always headlining dull, staid Oscar bait?

    And let’s face it – ANY film featuring the Great Dame is always good news.

  • 13 10-20-2010 at 11:37 am

    Lou said...

    lol – Maybe this is the male chauvinist pig in me talking. But, frankly, I’d much RATHER see Mirren looking hot and shooting off massive firearms in a stupid popcorn movie like “Red” than playing award winning queens any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    And, what’s with all the Betty White comparisons, anyway? White is literally old enough to be Mirren’s mother and has absolutely NOTHING in common with her other than that they are both over 60. That’s like me being compared to Miley Cyrus because we’re both over 15.

  • 14 10-20-2010 at 12:28 pm

    Zack said...

    @Lou: the Betty White thing is mostly in reference to “Red”, i.e. an actress with an incredible career taking a somewhat farcical role that seems like an extended joke about an older woman doing things unassociated with older women. To be fair, Betty White’s recent cultural niche is pretty much just a variation on the “foul-mouthed/jive-talking granny” comedic trope, which as far as I can tell dates back to the “Up yours, n—er!” woman from “Blazing Saddles”.
    Wow, I’ve put WAY too much thought into this.

  • 15 10-20-2010 at 1:21 pm

    Megan said...

    My opinion had always been that once you’ve won an Oscar, do whatever the fuck you want, lest you continue to gravitate towards oscar-bait and look like you’re trying too hard.

    …..(glares at Hillary Swank)

  • 16 10-20-2010 at 4:22 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    Bummer about “Brighton Rock” having no U.S. distributor.

  • 17 10-20-2010 at 5:59 pm

    Lou said...


    Point taken.

    It just seems like I’ve been seeing a LOT of Betty/Helen comparisons lately – most of which have nothing to do with “RED”. Some people just seem to be lumping them together as two feisty “old ladies” with hot careers without bothering to take notice of the considerable differences between the two.

  • 18 10-21-2010 at 11:40 am

    Ben M. said...

    I’m still somewhat surprised she got nominated last year for such an over-the-top performance from a film with a quiet release.

    Of the three 2010 films of hers I’ve seen, I guess Legend of the Guardians has to be my favorite, while she is fine in RED and Tempest (certainly better than in Last Station IMO) those films on the whole are a mess.

  • 19 10-23-2010 at 10:30 am

    Jordan said...

    “I’m still somewhat surprised she got nominated last year for such an over-the-top performance from a film with a quiet release. ”

    Though “The Last Station” wasn’t exactly blockbuster material, I wouldn’t call it a “quiet” release either. It had been a well-anticipated film months before it was released. The one thing that puzzled me, however, was that the film wasn’t released until early January, 2010 – which would seem to have disqualified any 2010 nominations.

    I have been a great admirer of Dame Helen Mirren’s work for many years. She is a consummate actress who possesses not only a versatile range of characterizations (brilliantly inhabiting gangster molls, police detectives and queens alike) but, demonstrates a rare instinct toward and understanding of those characters’ inner lives. Consequently, she portrays the behavior (and idiosyncrasies) that are appropriate to the personalities of those specific characters. This she accomplishes without the irritating quirks and mannerisms that even some great actors succumb to.

    Thus, if her performance appears to be “over-the-top” it is because her CHARACTER is over the top.

    Her portrayals of Jane Tennison in the “Prime Suspect” series and Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” are understated and nuanced because both characters are …… understated and nuanced. Whereas her portrayals of Elizabeth I, Ayn Rand and Sofya Tolstoy are more histrionic as befits their characters.

    Her portrayal of Sofya Tolstoy was Oscar-worthy precisely BECAUSE her character was a “shrieky” self-centered shrew who, in less capable thespian hands, could have easily become unsympathetic and one-dimensional. It is a testament to Mirren’s acting prowess that the character is complex and empathetically human despite this. The degree of difficulty that she employs in making this character sympathetic and recognizably human is very similar to what she accomplishes in “The Queen”, IMO.

    And, though Mirren does appear to be quite ubiquitous this year, keep in mind that some of the film projects released this year (“Last Station”, “The Tempest” and “The Debt”) were actually made 2 or3 years ago. So, the fact that she appears to be “everywhere” this year is due more to delay than overload.

    That said, I agree with previous posters that an actress of Mirren’s caliber has nothing to prove at this stage of her career and, should certainly be allowed to star in popcorn fare and yes, even a few clunkers.

    What law decrees that most of her films should be Oscar contenders?

    lol: Did you actually mention Dame Helen Mirren and Viggo Mortenson in the SAME SENTENCE??

  • 20 10-23-2010 at 10:51 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Did you actually mention Dame Helen Mirren and Viggo Mortenson (sic) in the SAME SENTENCE??”

    Uh, yeah. Mortensen is a great actor. A royal honour doesn’t automatically elevate an actor above their peers, y’know.

    And to answer your first question, “The Last Station” received a limited qualifying release in December 2009 before going into wider release in January. Common tactic.

  • 21 10-24-2010 at 9:29 am

    Jordan said...

    “Mortensen is a great actor”

    I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point.

    While Mortensen is a decent actor who tends to be under-rated, he is definitely not of the same acting caliber as Dame Helen Mirren, IMO. Christina Aguilera is a decent singer. But she ain’t no Aretha Franklin!

    “A royal honour doesn’t automatically elevate an actor above their peers, y’know.”

    Of course not. The tail doesn’t wag the dog. The royal honor is bestowed as a result of exceptional work – the exceptional work doesn’t accrue as a result of receiving the honor.

    BTW, thanks for the clarification on the “Last Station” release. I had Googled information on the “Last Station” during December 2009 and, had never seen anything about the limited release prior to January, 2010.