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Dame Helen Mirren, DBE (born 26 July 1945) is an English actor. She has won an Academy Award, four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes and four Emmy Awards during her career.


Mirren was born Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov in a corridor of the maternity wing of Queen Charlotte's Hospitalmarker, Hammersmithmarker in West London. Her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov (1913-1980), was of Russian origin, and her mother, Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda (née Rogers; 1909-1980), was English. Mirren's paternal grandfather, Pyotr Vassilievich Mironov, a Russian nobleman, tsaristmarker colonel and diplomat, was negotiating an arms deal in Britain and was stranded there, along with his family, during the Russian Revolution.

Her father called himself Basil and changed the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II and later drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner, before becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport. Mirren's mother was from West Hammarker, London and was the thirteenth of fourteen children born to a butcher whose father had been the butcher to Queen Victoria. Mirren considers her upbringing to have been "very anti-monarchist".

The first house she remembers living in was in Westcliff-on-Seamarker, Essex, when she was two or three years old, after the birth of her younger brother, who was named Peter Basil after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather. Mirren was the second of three children, born two years after her older sister Katherine ("Kate").


Mirren attended a Catholic girls' school, St Bernard's High School for Girls, in Southend-on-Seamarker, where she acted in school productions, and subsequently a teaching college, the New College of Speech and Drama in London "housed within Anna Pavlova's old home, Ivy House" on the North End Road, which leads from Golders Green to Hampstead, N. London. At age eighteen, she auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and was accepted. By age 20, she was Cleopatra in the NYT production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Old Vicmarker, which led to her signing with the agent Al Parker.


Early years

Her work for the NYT led to Mirren joining the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), playing Castiza in Trevor Nunn's 1966 staging of The Revenger's Tragedy, Diana in All's Well That Ends Well in 1967, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Phebe in As You Like It in 1968, Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1970, and Tatiana in Gorky's Enemies at the Aldwychmarker and the title role in Miss Julie at The Other Placemarker in 1971.

In 1972-73, Mirren worked with Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Research, and joined the group's tour in North Africa and the US which created The Conference of the Birds. Returning to the RSC she played Lady Macbeth at Stratfordmarker in 1974 and at the Aldwych Theatremarker in 1975.

As reported by Sally Beauman in her 1982 history of the RSC, Mirren, while appearing in Nunn's Macbeth (1974) and in a highly publicised letter to The Guardian newspaper, attacked both the National Theatremarker and the RSC for their lavish production expenditure, declaring it "unnecessary and destructive to the art of the Theatre," and adding, "The realms of truth, emotion and imagination reached for in acting a great play have become more and more remote, often totally unreachable across an abyss of costume and technicalities..." There were no discernible repercussions for this rebuke of the RSC.

West End and RSC

At the Royal Courtmarker in September 1975 she notably played rock star Maggie in Teeth 'n' Smiles, a musical play by David Hare, which was revived at Wyndham's Theatremarker in May 1976 winning her the Plays & Players Best Actress award, voted by the London critics.

From November 1975 Mirren played in West End repertory with the Lyric Theatre Company as Nina in The Seagull and Ella in Ben Travers' new farce The Bed Before Yesterday ("Mirren is stirringly voluptuous as the Harlowesque good-time girl": Michael Billington, The Guardian, 10 December 1975). At the RSC in Stratford in 1977, and at the Aldwych the following year, she played a steely Queen Margaret in Terry Hands' production of the three parts of Henry VI, while 1979 saw her 'bursting with grace' with an acclaimed performance as Isabella in Peter Gill's otherwise unexceptional production of Measure for Measure at Riverside Studiosmarker.

In 1981 she returned to the Royal Court for the London premiere of Brian Friel's Faith Healer. In the same year she also received acclaim for her performance in the title role of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, a production of Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatremarker which transferred to the The Roundhousemarker in Chalk Farmmarker, London. Reviewing her portrayal for The Sunday Telegraph, Francis King wrote: "Miss Mirren never leaves it in doubt that even in her absences, this ardent, beautiful woman is the most important character of the story."

Her performance as Moll Cutpurse in The Roaring Girl at the Royal Shakespeare Theatremarker in January 1983, and at the Barbican Theatremarker April 1983), "swaggered through the action with radiant singularity of purpose, filling in areas of light and shade that even Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker omitted." - Michael Coveney, Financial Times, April 1983.

After a relatively barren sojourn in the Hollywood Hills, she returned to England at the beginning of 1989 to co-star with Bob Peck at the Young Vicmarker in the London premiere of the Arthur Miller double-bill, Two Way Mirror, performances which prompted Miller to remark: "What is so good about English actors is that they are not afraid of the open expression of large emotions" (interview by Sheridan Morley: The Times 11 January 1989). In Elegy for a Lady she played the svelte proprietress of a classy boutique, while as the blonde hooker in Some Kind of Love Story she was "clad in a Freudian slip and shifting easily from waif-like vulnerability to sexual aggression, giving the role a breathy Monroesque quality" (Michael Billington, The Guardian).

Stage career breakthrough

A stage career breakthrough came in 1994, in an Yvonne Arnaud Theatremarker production bound for the West End, when Bill Bryden cast her as Natalya Petrovna in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Her co-stars were John Hurt as her aimless lover Rakitin and Joseph Fiennes in only his second professional stage appearance as the cocksure young tutor Belyaev. "Instead of a bored Natalya fretting the summer away in dull frocks, Mirren, dazzlingly gowned, is a woman almost wilfully allowing her heart's desire for her son's young tutor to rule her head and wreak domestic havoc....Creamy shoulders bared, she feels free to launch into a gloriously enchanted, dreamily comic self-confession of love." (John Thaxter, Richmond & Twickenham Times, 4 March 1994).

Mirren was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actress (Play): in 1995 for A Month in the Country, now directed by Scott Ellis ("Miss Mirren's performance is bigger and more animated than the one she gave last year in an entirely different London production", Vincent Canby in the NY Times, 26 April 1995). Then again in 2002 for August Strindberg's Dance of Death, co-starring with Sir Ian McKellen, their fraught rehearsal period coinciding with the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001 (as recorded in her In the Frame autobiography, September 2007).

National Theatre

Mirren had an unhappy experience at the National Theatremarker in 1998 when she played Cleopatra to Alan Rickman's Antony. In 2000 Nicholas Hytner, who had worked with Mirren on the film version of The Madness of King George, cast her as Lady Torrance in his revival of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending at the Donmar Warehousemarker in London. Michael Billington, reviewing for The Guardian, described her performance as "an exemplary study of an immigrant woman who has acquired a patina of resilient toughness but who slowly acknowledges her sensuality."

At the National Theatre in November 2003 she again won praise playing Christine Mannon ("defiantly cool, camp and skittish", Evening Standard; "glows with mature sexual allure", Daily Telegraph) in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra directed by Howard Davies.

“This production was one of the best experiences of my professional life, The play was four and a half hours long, and I have never known that kind of response from an audience...It was the serendipity of a beautifully cast play, with great design and direction, It will be hard to be in anything better.” (In the Frame, September 2007).

She played the tragic title role in Jean Racine's Phèdre at the National in 2009, in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner. The production was also staged at the amphitheater of Epidaurusmarker on July 11 and 12, 2009.


Mirren has also appeared in a large number of films throughout her career. Some of her earlier film roles include O Lucky Man!, Caligula, Excalibur, 2010, The Long Good Friday, White Nights and The Mosquito Coast. After those appearances she received roles in Belfast-born director Terry George's film Some Mother's Son, which was about the 1981 Hunger Strikes in Northern Irelandmarker, opposite Irishmarker actress Fionnula Flanagan, Painted Lady, The Prince of Egypt and The Madness of King George. One of her other film roles was in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, as the eponymous thief's wife, opposite Michael Gambon. Her favourite film is Teaching Mrs. Tingle, in which she plays sadistic History teacher, Mrs Eve Tingle .

Mirren continued her successful film career when she starred more recently in Gosford Park with Maggie Smith and Calendar Girls where she starred with Julie Walters. Other more recent appearances include The Clearing, Pride, Raising Helen, and Shadowboxer. Mirren also provided the voice for the supercomputer "Deep Thought" in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. During her career, she has portrayed three British queens in different films and television series: Elizabeth I in the television series Elizabeth I (2005), Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), and Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, in The Madness of King George (1994). She is the only actress ever to have portrayed both Queens Elizabeth on the screen.

Her title role of The Queen earned her numerous acting awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award, among many others. During her acceptance speech at the Academy Award ceremony, Mirren praised and thanked Elizabeth II and stated that she had maintained her dignity and weathered many storms during her reign as Queen. Mirren later appeared in supporting roles in the films National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, Inkheart, and State of Play. Her upcoming movies are The Tempest, Love Ranch, The Last Station, The Debt. and she will be starring in a big-screen remake of Graham Greene's classic 1939 novel Brighton Rock.

Mirren has frequently appeared nude on film as far back as her first film Age of Consent, and was over 50 when she appeared nude in the film Calendar Girls and on the cover of the Radio Times 5-11 October issue in 1996.


Dame Helen is well-known for her role as detective Jane Tennison in the widely-viewed Prime Suspect, a multiple award winning television drama that was noted for its high quality, higher popularity and its unique format, in that it ran for seven seasons in seven extended multi-act episodes rather than in a traditional seasonal schedule. The role of Tennison won her three consecutive BAFTA awards for Best Actress between 1992 to 1994. The Prime Suspect franchise remains the most popular police drama in British television history, and one of the most popular in the other large Commonwealth countries, along with the crime series Halifax, F.P., (starring Rebecca Gibney, whom many say is reminiscent of a young Mirren) which is broadcast in Australia and New Zealandmarker and DaVinci's Inquest, broadcast in Canada.

Some of Dame Helen's other acclaimed television performances include Cousin Bette (1971), As You Like It (1979), Blue Remembered Hills (1979), Losing Chase (1996), The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999) where her performance won her both the Emmy and the Golden Globe, Door to Door (2002), and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003). In 1976 Mirren appeared with Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates and Malcolm McDowell in the production of Harold Pinter's The Collection as part of the Laurence Olivier Presents series. She also played Elizabeth I in 2005, in the television series Elizabeth I, for Channel 4 and HBO, where she received an Emmy for her performance. Mirren won another Emmy on 16 September 2007 for her role in Prime Suspect: The Final Act on PBS in the same category as in 2006.

Awards and recognition

Film awards

In 1984, Mirren won Best Actress for her role in the film Cal at the Cannes Film Festival and the 1985 Evening Standard British Film Awards. In 1994 and 2001, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her roles in The Madness of King George and Gosford Park, respectively. In 1995, she had also been awarded for Best Actress once again in Cannes for playing Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George. In 2002, she received the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for Gosford Park. Mirren is the first female actress to be nominated for three acting performances at the Golden Globe Awards in the same year. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in the movie drama category for Stephen Frears' The Queen in 2006 (along with two nominations in the Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie category for Elizabeth I, and Prime Suspect: Final Act). She won both Golden Globes for The Queen and Elizabeth I and also won two SAG awards the same year for the same roles. Mirren is the third actor to win two Golden Globes in the same year, and the first ever to win for both leading roles in TV and film in the same year. She is one of only three actresses (the first was Liza Minnelli in 1973 and then decades later Helen Hunt) to win a Golden Globe, an Oscar and an Emmy for performances given in the same year.

Along with the Golden Globe, Mirren's acclaimed performance in The Queen won her the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actress. She also received Best Actress awards from the Venice Film Festival, Broadcast Film Critics, National Board of Review, Satellite Awards, Screen Actors Guild and a BAFTA, as well as critics awards from all over the world. Entertainment Weekly recently ranked her Number 2 for Entertainer of the Year for 2006 and also won the award for best actress in film at the new Greatest Britons Awards for her role in The Queen. In 2007 Mirren became an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society at Trinity College Dublinmarker.

She won the Best Actress award at the 2009 Rome International Film Festival for her performance as Tolstoy's wife in The Last Station.

Academy Award Nominations

Television awards

Mirren won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Mini-series or TV Movie in 1997 for her role in Losing Chase. She received two nominations in the Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie category for Elizabeth I, and Prime Suspect: The Final Act, where she only won the Golden Globe for her title role performance in Elizabeth I. In that same year she won an SAG award for that same role. Mirren also won an Emmy for her role in Elizabeth I in category Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or a Movie in 2006. She had previously won an Emmy twice before, in that same category, in 1996 for her role in Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness and in 1999 for The Passion of Ayn Rand.

At the end of a triumphant year of awards for her acclaimed movie performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, Dame Helen also collected a 2007 Emmy Television award as Best Actress in a Mini-Series for her performance as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect: The Final Act. She now has four Emmy awards. This seventh and apparently concluding instalment of the Prime Suspect saga portrayed Tennison as an alcoholic destined for retirement, and was screened in the US on the public service network PBS.

Emmy Awards

Awards won are indicated by bold lettering.
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts

Each year since 1988 The Critics' Circle has presented an award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, voted for by all members of the Circle, embracing Dance, Drama, Film, Music, Visual Arts and Architecture. At a celebratory luncheon on 10 April 2007 in the National Theatre's Terrace Restaurant, the award for 2006 was presented to Dame Helen Mirren. As David Gritten, chairman of the Film section made clear, the decision to make the award was voted on in November 2006, well in advance of the awards hubbub that surrounded her performance in The Queen. Accepting the award, an engraved crystal rose bowl, Mirren described it as the most useful she has ever received, while reflecting poignantly that this now "might be the last award I will win in my life. It has been a most incredible year. You do the work and then....." Previous recipients include Peter Hall (1988), Judi Dench (1997) and Ian McKellen (2003).

Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire

On 5 December 2003, she was invested as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). When she received the honour, Mirren commented that Prince Charles was "very graceful" but forgot to give her half of the award; another person had to remind him to give Mirren the star. She also said that she felt wary about accepting the award and had to be persuaded by fellow comrades to accept the DBE. In 1996 she had declined appointment as a Commander of the order (CBE).

Personal life

Mirren married American director Taylor Hackford (her partner since 1986) whom she met on the set of White Nights, in the Scottish Highlands on 31 December 1997, his 53rd birthday, in Scotland at Ardersier Parish Church near Inverness, by the Rev. Alex Whiteford. It was her first marriage, and his third (he has two children from his previous marriage). Mirren has no children and says she has "no maternal instinct whatsoever." Previously, in 1990, Mirren stated in an interview that she is an atheist.

Mirren's autobiography, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, was published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in September 2007. Reviewing for The Stage, John Thaxter wrote: "Sumptuously illustrated, at first sight it looks like another of those photo albums of the stars. But between the pictures there are almost 200 pages of densely printed text, an unusually frank story of her private and professional life, mainly in the theatre, the words clearly Mirren's own, delivered with forthright candour."

In a GQ interview in 2008, Mirren stated she had been date raped as a student and had often taken cocaine at parties during the 1980s. She was quoted by GQ saying, "I loved coke. I never did a lot, just a little bit at parties". She said she never touched the drug again after reading that Klaus Barbie, who was known as the Butcher of Lyon for his role in the deaths of 4,000 people during World War Two, made a living from cocaine dealing. Saying "And I read that in the paper, and all the cards fell into place and I saw how my little sniff of cocaine at a party had an absolute direct route to this f****** horrible man in South America. And from that day I never touched cocaine again. Until that moment I had never grasped the full horrifying structure of what brings coke to our parties in Britain."

References in pop culture


Year Film Role Notes
1967 Herostratus
1968 A Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia
1969 Red Hot Shot
Age of Consent Cora Ryan
1972 Miss Julie Miss Julie
Savage Messiah Gosh Boyle
1973 O Lucky Man! Patricia
1975 Caesar and Claretta Claretta Petacci
1976 Hamlet Ophelia/Gertrude
1979 The Quiz Kid Joanne
Caligula Caesonia
1980 Hussy Beaty
The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu Alice Rage
The Long Good Friday Victoria
1981 Excalibur Morgana
1984 Cal Marcella Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Best Actress Award at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival
2010: The Year We Make Contact Tanya Kirbuk
Faerie Tale Theatre: "The Little Mermaid" Princess Amelia
1985 Heavenly Pursuits Ruth Chancellor
Coming Through Frieda von Richtofen Weekley
White Nights Galina Ivanova
1986 The Mosquito Coast Mother Fox
1988 Pascali's Island Lydia Neuman
1989 When the Whales Came Clemmie Jenkins
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Georgina Spica
1990 Bethune: The Making of a Hero Frances Penny Bethune
The Comfort of Strangers Caroline
1991 Where Angels Fear to Tread Lilia Herriton
1993 The Hawk Annie Marsh
Royal Deceit Geruth
1994 The Madness of King George Queen Charlotte Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Best Actress Award at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival

1995 The Snow Queen Snow Queen (voice)
1996 Some Mother's Son Kathleen Quigley
1997 Critical Care Stella
1998 Sidoglio Smithee
The Prince of Egypt The Queen (voice)
1999 The Passion of Ayn Rand Ayn Rand
Teaching Mrs. Tingle Mrs. Eve Tingle
2000 Greenfingers Georgina Woodhouse
2001 The Pledge Doctor
No Such Thing The Boss
Happy Birthday Distinguished Woman
Last Orders Amy
Gosford Park Mrs. Wilson Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cast
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy

2003 The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone Karen Stone
Calendar Girls Chris Harper Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
2004 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Deep Thought (voice)
The Clearing Eileen Hayes
Raising Helen Dominique
2005 Elizabeth I Queen Elizabeth I
Shadowboxer Rose
Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula Tiberius Short film
2006 The Queen Queen Elizabeth II Academy Award for Best Actress
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role - Motion Picture
Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival

2007 National Treasure: Book of Secrets Emily Appleton
2008 Inkheart Elinor Loredan
2009 State of Play Cameron Lynne
Love Ranch Grace Botempo in post-production
The Last Station Sofya Tolstoy in post-production
2010 The Debt Rachel Singer in post-production
The Tempest Prospera in post-production

Further reading

  • Command Performance, a profile of Helen Mirren written by John Lahr in The New Yorker magazine, 2 October 2006 [32150]
  • In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures (autobiography) by Helen Mirren, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007 ISBN 9780297851974.
    • Rather than writing an autobiography Helen Mirren was commissioned by Alan Samson at Orion Books to write about her life in a series of chapters based on pictures from her extensive personal collection of photography and memorabilia. Edited by Chris Worwood, with whom she worked on the Award-winning HBO series Elizabeth, the book covers every aspect of her life from her aristocratic Russian heritage to her days with Peter Hall's RSC company to her Academy Award for The Queen.


  • Theatre Record (originally London Theatre Record) and its Indexes for the quoted theatre reviews, credit listings and playbills
  • The Best of Plays and Players 1969-1983, selected and edited by Peter Roberts, (Methuen Drama, 1989 ISBN 0413537307)
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades by Sally Beauman, (Oxford University Press, 1982 ISBN 0192122096)
  • A Dictionary of the RSC by Simon Trowbridge [32151]

  1. According to her 2007 memoirs "the fastest birth on record at that time. I wonder if anyone has broken it yet?"
  2. Helen Mirren
  3. E! Online (entertainment web-site)
  4. The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades by Sally Beauman, (Oxford 1982)
  5. Helen Mirren at the Oscars,
  6. Helen Mirren in Brighton Rock
  7. " Dame Helen crowned Queen", The Sun Online. Retrieved on 2007-02-26.
  8. Rome International Film Festival
  9. Critics' Award for Mirren, British Theatre Guide
  10. Helen Mirren declines CBE, The Times
  12. Contact Music accessed 4 March 2007
  13. "Sometimes I feel like a farmer during a war, someone who doesn't know very much about it and carries on digging, hoping for rain. But just the last few days I've had this terrible feeling of... doom. It's a, er, biblical, kind of Old Testament feeling. I'm an atheist, but I was suddenly thinking of those stories of the flood and punishment. Because we've become unbelievably greedy and destructive." Helen Mirren interviewed by Simon Garfield, The Independent (London), 25 November 1990, The Sunday Review Pages, Pg 27.
  14. Book review: The Stage newspaper, 1 November 2007
  15. 01/Sep/08 Dame Helen in cocaine admission
  16. 31/Aug/2008 The Queen actress Dame Helen Mirren reveals former love of cocaine
  17. Shakespeare Gets A Sex Change

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