8 Milestones in the Evolution of Helen Mirren

Prime Suspect (1991)

In the early '90s, Mirren starred as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison on this celebrated British television series (which wrapped up in 2007). Alternately a bold social drama and gripping police procedural, Prime Suspect cast hot-button issues like sexism, racism, child abuse, abortion and alcoholism through the prism of Tennison's work and life. The series would prove to be a much-needed shot of adrenaline for Mirren's career, ultimately garnering her two Emmy awards and three BAFTA awards.

The Madness of King George (1994)

With her foray into American films behind her (at least for now), Mirren concentrated on her television series and a succession of British period pieces. Here, Mirren plays England's Queen Charlotte, the wife to the titular, mentally ill 18th-century king. The film earned Mirren her first Academy Award nomination; she would eventually lose to Dianne Wiest for Bullets Over Broadway.

The Queen (2006)

Mirren would again be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2001's Gosford Park (losing to Jennifer Connelly) before finally winning Best Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth II. Mirren's fourth time playing a British monarch finds her grappling with the immediate aftermath of Princess Diana's death, from her fraught relationship with her late, estranged daughter-in-law to the modern-era protocols invoked by her Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). What's arguably most interesting about Mirren's performance and Oscar win is what she did with her roles after this film, including...

Red (2010)

The running, gunning, one-liner-ing Red is hardly a milestone on its own, but more a flagship for Mirren's post-Oscar career: With the exception of her Academy Award-nominated turn in The Last Station (playing another Russian, this time the long-suffering wife of Leo Tolstoy), she has returned to her
mainstream American trajectory of the 1980s. The obvious difference: As an internationally beloved actress, she can do whatever she wants very popular one at that, Mirren can do pretty much whatever she wants. From Red to National Treasure: Book of Secrets to State of Play and, yes, even a Zack Snyder film (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole), Mirren, at 65 years old, has a situation enjoyed by few other actors her age, male or female -- an actor with the luxury of choice.

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  • Philip Boniello says:

    Excellent article, but there should have been ten milestones......We can't forget "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover", and "2010: The Year We Make Contact". Helen Mirren is so hot.....

  • Mike Ryan says:

    To be fair, both of those are mentioned.

  • CiscoMan says:

    By coincidence, I watched The Long Good Friday yesterday, in which Mirren is Bob Hoskins gangster-going-straight girlfriend (wife?). Pierce Brosnan has a bit role, along with the dude that played Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Everyone looks way younger except Hoskins, who looks exactly the same.

  • miles silverberg says:

    Great subject for this series. I wouldn't contain Prime Suspect to "the early 90's" since it served as a connective thread through her rising career all the way to the final installment 4 years ago. It's a franchise that elevated her status as much as any movie blockbuster could have.

  • 2+2=4 says:

    let's also not forget epic Caligula with Malcolm McDowell and cult classic Excalibur. Both exceptional movies. And I agree, she was hot.

  • Quirky- says:

    The only time I've ever thought of or heard the word 'exceptional' in relation to Caligula, it's usually exception...ally bad.

  • sosgemini says:

    Her last scene in Gosford Park is probably her greatest acting achievement. I am getting choked up just thinking about it.

  • Dimo says:

    If I had a time machine...forget trying to stop 9/11...I'm going right to 1967 to get acquainted with Miss Mirren.

  • casting couch says:

    Was? She's a gold class GILF.
    Prime Suspect was her ticket to greatness.

  • 2+2=4 says:

    exceptionally bad? it's painfully watchable and quite remarkable in its insanity. Fellini on mescaline. try uncensored version, it's very violent and gory.

  • stwsr says:

    How could you miss Helen Mirren playing Morgana in Excalibur. I really expected to see that one listed here, but ....

  • Ranjeet says:

    Excellent article, but there should have been more milestones......We can't forget "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover", and "2010: The Year We Make Contact". Helen Mirren is so hot.....