With a career that spans more than five decades, Helen Mirren has an unsurprisingly incredible filmography. She's done everything, from comedy to drama, biopics, and even action films. (You may have caught her in this summer’s FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW.) At age 74, Mirren is one of our greatest actresses, and she’s not slowing down any time soon.
This fall, Mirren returns to the big screen in THE GOOD LIAR, a thrilling psychological drama and her first film with fellow veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen. As we gear up to crawl through that web of deceit, we’re taking a look back at Helen Mirren’s amazing career with this list of her best roles. Read on, because there’s something for everyone.
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
This 1981 fantasy action epic from director John Boorman (DELIVERANCE) tells the legend of King Arthur. Helen Mirren plays the hero’s half-sister, a powerful sorceress named Morgana Le Fay, who studies under the famed wizard Merlin. Morgana’s story is one of revenge, making Mirren the villain of the film… and what a fine villain she was. Mirren plays Morgana as an ambitious apprentice who is discarded by the haughty Merlin, and who grows powerful enough to humble him.
[Image Credit: MGM]
Based on the acclaimed stage play, THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE tells the true story of England’s King George III as his mental health deteriorates and causes a rift within both his family and kingdom. Mirren plays George’s wife, Queen Charlotte – a role that earned her an Academy Award® nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
[Image Credit: Entertainment Film Distributors]
Directed by the great Robert Altman (THE LONG GOODBYE), this very British film from 2001 is set at an English country house where a murder takes place following a dinner party. The ensuing investigation is explored from the perspective of the wealthy guests and the servants of the home, including Mirren’s Mrs. Wilson. It’s like DOWNTON ABBEY, but with a murder mystery! This film is crafted in Altman's signature style, which means there are many, many characters, and scenes with layers of dialogue happening at the same time. And yet, Mirren still stands out.
[Image Credit: BBC]
Mirren plays the title role of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I in this two-part HBO miniseries film, which also stars Jeremy Irons as the Earl of Leicester. Directed by Tom Hooper (THE KING’S SPEECH), the film earned Mirren both an Emmy® and a Golden Globe® for her performance as the troubled 16th century Queen.
[Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics]
This powerful 2009 biographical drama follows the final months in the life of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, played by the great Christopher Plummer. Mirren stars as his wife, Sofya, who battles Tolstoy’s disciples for control over her husband’s works after his death. Mirren and Plummer were both nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.
[Image Credit: Pathé Distribution]
Oh don't look so shocked; of course Helen Mirren has played more than one Queen Elizabeth. In 2006’s THE QUEEN, Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II, who believes the tragic death of Princess Diana of Wales should be a private family matter. Her son, Prince Charles, and England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) believe otherwise, leading to a dramatic rift between the three. Queen Elizabeth II is both a very public figure and somewhat enigmatic, and Mirren's performance finds relatable, empathetic feelings behind her actions.
[Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures]
This 2012 biographical drama explores the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic horror film PSYCHO. Anthony Hopkins stars as the famous filmmaker, and Helen Mirren plays his wife and artistic collaborator, Alma Reville. Mirren (unsurprisingly) earned several awards nominations for her performance. Reville is a figure well-known to die-hard Hitchcock fans, and Mirren's work made her accessible to all.
[Image Credit: Bleecker Street]
A few years later, Mirren turned heads with her standout performance in another biographical drama: 2015’s TRUMBO. Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") stars as Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted over his membership in the Communist party. Mirren plays Hedda Hopper, the actress-turned-famous gossip columnist who condemns Trumbo. Hopper was a famously controversial figure, and Mirren approaches her with brio, and captures all the woman's contradictory facets.
[Image Credit: Miramax]
Peter Greenaway's art film goes to extremes. Helen Mirren plays the Wife of the film's title, a character married to a horrific criminal, played by Michael Gambon. He treats Mirren's character as terribly as he treats everyone else, and she responds, finally, by embarking upon a dangerous affair with a shy bookseller. Things do not end well. This film is utterly gorgeous and sometimes horrific and shocking. Throughout, Mirren's performance is what brings life and light to some very dark situations.
[Image Credit: BBC Films]
Released the same year as TRUMBO, WOMAN IN GOLD is a biographical drama starring Mirren as Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who hires a young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) to help her fight the Austrian government and reclaim a valuable piece of art that was stolen from her family by the Nazis. This role relies entirely on Mirren's ability to stand with stoic dignity, and to exude a quiet determination to achieve justice. She delivers on all fronts.
Actors often achieve greatness when paired with performers that really challenge their approach to a scene. So we're excited about THE GOOD LIAR, in which Mirren plays a wealthy widow who seems like an easy mark for a con man, played by Ian McKellen. We'd watch Mirren and McKellen read takeout menus to one another for two hours, frankly, so seeing them dig into a twisty thriller should be a grand old time.