02-07-2011

Queen

Julie Taymor's version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest secured its place in the cinema history due to innovation: the main character is now a woman named Prospera. The helmer explained this twist in adaptation by a simple fact: she couldn’t find a male performer who’d be comparable with Helen Mirren. By the way the actress once mentioned that her first role happened to be Prospero’s servant Caliban. It’s hard to imagine, that refined Helen Mirren played this wild monster. Anyhow it was in her school years, and on professional stage she stepped as Cleopatra, which opened a long list of royal ladies who brought the actress a huge bunch of awards including Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe.

Her professional career launched at the peak of the sexual revolution, when manifested sexuality and naked bodies symbolized emancipation. Helen didn’t mind to exploit sexuality, but always on her own terms. She couldn’t be called a sex-bomb – thinness and ascetic face gained her advantage as satisfying a new iconographic canon which replaced Merylin Monroe’s hot trepidation with estranged ritual gesture of seduction. In Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief His Wife & Her Lover she played a posh woman with repressed by despotic husband sexuality, who gained her dignity through love affair and sexual experience with a suddenly met man, returning Georgina to life. “As you get older, naked stuff gets easier”, - she says. 14 years later in Calendar Girls Helen Mirren played some opposite type - a provincial housewife, provoking her elderly friends to issue a calendar with their naked photos as fund-raising for an ill husband.

Helen Mirren’s creation is closely bound up with Britain’s cinema often shocking bourgeois taste on the one hand and tightly connected with the classical traditions, first of all Shakesperian one, on the other. She also performed Shakespeare’s contemporary – Queen Elizabeth I. “Now, - she remarks, - it’s time when Russians play English queens”. The descendent of a Russian aristocrat, born Ilyena Lydia Mironoff, she played queens a total of six times on screen – to say nothing of stage. It might be noted that her trademark is showing the royal grandeur without a trace of affected pompousness. They say her portrayal of Elizabeth II increased the queen's popularity; likewise countess Sofya Tolstoy recently performed by Helen in The Last Station opened a new page in our understanding of life and thought of the Russian genius. What is especially amazing in Helen Mirren’s performance is depicting iron-hard characters of visibly fragile, subtle women. This unique quality makes her strikingly forcible in the action parts as an extremely dangerous member of a killing squad in RED or a Mossad secret agent in John Madden’s The Debt, closing The Moscow International.

Nina Tsyrkun