Becoming Helen Mirren is a freewheeling combination of theatre, film and TV history, literary criticism and personal memoir…
Today she is an international star, an Academy Award winner and recipient of multiple Golden Globes. But before Prime Suspect made her a household name on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s, Helen Mirren had already had a distinguished career, primarily as a stage actress, in her native Britain. This book sets out to explore that early career, so much less well known to her worldwide fans, suggesting how a series of decisive and original performances of classic and modern work in her twenties and thirties laid the foundations for the later movie roles that elevated her to Hollywood royalty.
From her first role as Cleopatra with the National Youth Theatre through her years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, she was a talent to watch. An unexpected interlude with Peter Brook’s experimental theatre troupe and some eye-popping early screen appearances confirmed the impression. Always the peculiar impact of the early work came from a fearlessness in the face of contradiction and category distinctions: it lent freshness to her classic roles; even in period dress, her Shakespeare seemed to be of the moment.
As well as critical discussion of many of the plays, TV dramas and films in which she appeared between 1965 and 1983 and their reception history, the book has an autobiographical twist. It’s also about a young man’s enthusiasm for a young actress (with whom he once corresponded but never met) and how that enthusiasm wanes. As they both grow older and their lives diverge ever further, her career takes a direction that leaves him cold. She has ‘become’ – and become something other than what he hoped. He, meanwhile, is still in process of ‘becoming’.