Dame Helen Mirren
(1946 - )
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Helen Mirren was born Ilyena Lydia Mironoff on the 27th of July, 1946. Helen's grandfather was Russian, Pyotr Vasielivich Mironov, an aristocrat connected to the military. He came to London to buy arms to aid his countrymen in the Russo-Japanese war, then found himself stranded due to the Bolshevik revolution. Helens father Basil, who had been brought to London when only two, was something of a musician. Once a violinist with the London Philharmonic, to support his family he later became a cabbie and then a driving instructor

From the age of 6, Helen recalls wanting to be an actress, she wanted to act in an "old-fashioned and traditional sense". She performed onstage at school at St Bernard's High School for Girls in Westcliff-On-Sea - and dreamt of being a Shakespearean heroine. She says she was obsessed with the Bard by the age of 13, having been drawn to him by the character of Joan Of Arc in Henry VI.

Her parents did not think acting to be a prudent career choice. They encouraged their to enroll at teacher training college, which she dutifully did, in Hampstead. She didn't last long. Having auditioned for the National Youth Theatre, she was taken on and, in 1965, made her debut at the Old Vic as Cleopatra (in Anthony and Cleopatra). She was immediately sensational. Her Cleopatra was a revelation and perhaps a taste of things to come. Commanding, capricious, wise, and demanding, she was also overtly sexual, a quality deemed utterly contemporary, given the sexual revolution taking place at the time. Within two years, Helen was taken on by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Onscreen, due to her concentration on the stage work, Mirren's career would not really take off until the very late 1970s. She'd played Hermia to Judi Dench's Titania in Peter Hall's filmed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Her most famous role, and that which she is even now remembered for was Caesonia in the film 'Caligula' (1979). Tinto Brass was the director and she squeezed the legend for everything it had. All the performances were notable but especially Helen as Caligula's , voluptuous mistress Caesonia, but the film itself was overshadowed by the silly sex and incredible brutality.

Mirren came into her own as a film actress later that year with her strong turn as the lover of a gangster (Bob Hoskins) in 'The Long Good Friday' (1979). She lent an appropriately seductive air to the evil Morgana in "Excalibur" (1981), John Boorman's revisionist take on the Arthurian legend and then returned to her stage roots for a series of TV appearances in Shakespeare plays. With "Cal" (1984), the actress hit new heights, turning in a memorable performance as the widow of a RUC policeman who unwittingly falls in love with the IRA man (John Lynch) partly responsible for his murder. Although she earned the Cannes Film Festival prize as the year's best actress, she did not garner the same attention when the film was released in the USA.








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