Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Other work (1963-83)


  • Hamlet (Shakespeare), Scala Theatre, London, 1963 – “a citizen” [first role with National Youth Theatre]
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare), Queen’s Theatre, London, 1964 – Helena
  • The Ortolan (Michael Meyer), University Theatre, Manchester, 1966 – role? [first role with Century Theatre Company]
  • Long Day's Journey Into Night (O’Neill), University Theatre, Manchester, 1966 – Cathleen
  • Charley's Aunt (Brandon Thomas), University Theatre, Manchester, 1966 – Kitty
  • The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), University Theatre, Manchester, 1967 – Nerissa
  • Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (Halliwell), Empire, Sunderland, 1967 – role?  
  • The Revenger's Tragedy (Middleton/Tourneur), Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1967; Aldwych Theatre, London, 1969 – Castiza [first role with Royal Shakespeare Company]
  • Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare), Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1968; Aldwych Theatre, London, 1969 – Hero
  • The Silver Tassie (O’Casey), Aldwych Theatre, London, 1969 – Susie
  • Bartholomew Fair (Jonson), Aldwych Theatre, London, 1969 – Win-the-Fight Littlewit
  • Richard III (Shakespeare), Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1970 – Lady Anne
  • Enemies (Gorky), Aldwych Theatre, London, 1971 – Tatyana
  • The Man of Mode (Etherege), Aldwych Theatre, London, 1971 – Harriet
  • The Balcony (Genet), Aldwych Theatre, London, 1971 – Elayne
  • Peter Brook/International Centre for Theatre Research, Paris, Africa, USA, 1972-3
  • Henry VI, Parts I, II and III (Shakespeare), Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1977; Aldwych Theatre, 1978 – Queen Margaret
  • Faith Healer (Brian Friel), Royal Court Theatre, London, 1981 – Grace
  • Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare), The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1982; The Pit, London, 1983 – Cleopatra


  • Doing Her Own Thing, ITV, 1970 (documentary about the actress by John Goldschmidt)
  • Cousin Bette (Balzac), BBC, 1971 – Valerie
  • The Silver Collection (Susan Pleat), ITV, 1971 – Rachel
  • A Coffin for the Bride (Brian Clemens), ITV, 1974 – Stella McKenzie/Angie
  • Bellamira (Sedley), ITV, 1975 – title role
  • The Little Minister (Barrie), BBC, 1975 – Babbie
  • The Serpent Son (Aeschylus), BBC, 1979 – Cassandra
  • Blue Remembered Hills (Dennis Potter), BBC, 1979 – Angela
  • The Quiz Kid (JC Wilsher), ITV, 1979 – Joanne
  • Mrs Reinhardt (Edna O’Brien), BBC, 1981 – title role
  • Soft Targets (Poliakoff), BBC, 1982 – Celia


  • Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare), BBC World Service, 1975 – Beatrice


  • Press for Time, 1966 – Penelope Squires
  • The Extravaganza of Golgotha Smuts, 1967 – role?
  • Red Hot Shot [Colpo rovente], 1970 – role?
  • Caligula, 1979 – Caesonia
  • SOS Titanic, 1979 – May Sloan
  • Hussy, 1980 – Beaty
  • The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu, 1980 – Alice Rage
  • The Long Good Friday, 1980 – Victoria
  • Excalibur, 1981 – Morgana

This brings to an end my survey of Helen Mirren’s early work. I have written in detail about the performances, the plays and the films that most interest me; I leave it to others to write about the remainder. Why choose 1983 as a terminus? It seems to mark a hiatus, the break before the second, transatlantic phase of her career begins. Around this time she experienced her only extended period out of work, and this is also when she got the call from Hollywood to make 2010, Peter Hyams’s sequel to Kubrick’s masterful sci-fi epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a dreadful film, but it opened up the prospect of a new life, as she describes in her autobiography:

I arrived in Los Angeles and was given the keys to a brand-new Mustang convertible, and a second set of keys to a condo off the Sunset Strip. I was in heaven.

The 1983 General Election, which returned Thatcher to office with an increased majority, was also decisive, it seems: “I just did not like the direction my country and my city were going”.  If Ivan Waterman, her unauthorised biographer, is to be believed, her failure to scoop an Olivier Award in 1983 for her second – and, in her view, best – crack at Cleopatra was another factor. He quotes a bad-tempered rant (unsourced, like almost everything in his book):

I thought, Fuck it, that’s it, they obviously don’t want me. They don’t like me. They hate what I do. I’ll go somewhere else. I didn’t have much acclaim. I wasn’t being asked to do any work in England. Nobody was actually asking me to do anything. Suddenly Hollywood seemed a way of saying, “Fuck you, England.”   

A decade and a half earlier, she’d felt more optimistic about her future. The Guardian reported in 1969:

Miss Helen Mirren… has always set herself targets, and her target today is that in 10 years’ time she will be accepted as a significant classical actress of our time. If, in 1979, the RSC is the sort of ensemble company she would like it to be, then she has no doubts that she will still be a member of it, God willing. Otherwise it will be a life of guest appearances with Paul Scofield, Eric Porter, Judi Dench et al. “And that,” says the very sexy, very ambitious, and occasionally self-deriding Miss Mirren, “would be quaite naice.” (Ian Woodward, “A very leading lady”, Guardian, 4 September 1969.)

Call me old-fashioned, but, of the two personalities on offer here, I rather prefer the wide-eyed thespian of 1969.