Yesterday, had almost a four-hour fix of Helen Mirren, likely my favorite actress. First, finally got to see her wickedly humane (in an intelligent, intelligent screenplay) in The Queen,
from the very opening, when she simply turns to the camera, unwavering, she is unnerving, a regal seeing through her subjects. All without an arching of an eyebrow, all without a heavy winking at the audience, but just that glorious face.
The movie is mostly up to her intelligent portrayal (Prince Philip and Tony Blair come off cartoonish in a couple of scenes, but I love the bitchy take on the Queen Mum, too), especially with the very fine argument it makes on her behalf, by her example. It remains a comedy throughout, but the piece is mournful, actually, of the death of rectitude and forebearance the Queen's generation represents. It's far more than merely a stiff upper lip, but a call to place everything in proportion, to submit to a duty. Ironically, the Queen's humiliation, so devastating played out through Mirren's gifts, is that she must yield as duty dictates. Yes, it mocks the Queen's cluelessness, ruthlessly so. But the film (and Mirren's performance) also curtsies before her majestic and quiet equilibrium.
Then getting home, we watched the first half of Prime Suspect 7
, to see the final edition of Helen Mirren's 15-year treatment and inhabitation of DCI Jane Tennyson. Here, in her character, is more fire, but it is also a cold and anguished one that burns in Mirren's rendition. Jane does not smile. She does not fold her arms defensively. Her gestures all express and exert Jane's stabs at authority, amid the fissures she shows in this deeply flawed and noble character. It is the very best of television, and this rivals the first two series in writing.
Of course, I first really came alert to Helen Mirren in her wonderfully sexy role as Rosalind in her performance of As You Like It
, the BBC version in 1978. I saw it then while a sophomore at college, and Mirren was brilliant, vibrant, especially when Rosalind dons her male disguise and instructs her beloved Orlando on the ways to woo a woman. Her Ros expresses her masculined tinted lustiness, but it's all feminine, too, and joyful in the playing. So much, I know, was made of Gwyneth Paltrow's performance in the splendid Shakespeare in Love
(and yes, I did like the unraveling scene), but Helen Mirren's unadorned pleasure in this boyish and womanly portrayal is so much more on the surface, as it should be.