Helen Mirren: Hero or Villain?


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The Independent Online

As the songwriting duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein famously put it, there is nothing like a dame. But there is not now, and never has there ever been, another Dame quite like Helen Mirren.

Here she goes again, a handful of years shy of her 70th birthday, still flying in the face of Home Counties attitudes. That her views on marriage and romance – widely reported last week – were culled from an interview that The Queen and Prime Suspect actress gave to the cosy Woman and Home magazine, is further proof of the perverse pleasure Mirren has always taken in puncturing preconceptions.

It was in evidence the first time many of us encountered her. That was in 1975 when she was the first guest on the Parkinson chat show. As Parky embarrassingly muttered on about her "physical attributes", she left viewers in no doubt about how she felt at having to answer such "boring questions". Later, she talked about the culture of male chauvinism prevalent then, and told her host: "You've heard that phrase, I'm sure."

Returning to the show 32 years later, she had noticeably mellowed, but didn't let that stop her telling Parkinson: "I thought you were sexist," and, a greater crime to her way of thinking, "didn't even dare say the word 'breasts'."

Mirren is now, and has always been, a freethinker of the highest order. Education? "The school system is not conducive to education." Porn? Give her Screw magazine over the "pretentious" Playboy any day. Tattoos? She got hers on a Native American reservation decades before they were deemed socially acceptable.

And then, in the same week that she told the world they could drop fries on and maybe even pee on her new Hollywood Walk of Fame star, came that interview in which she revelled in the fact that she and her husband "pour cold water" on any ideas of romance and feel free to forget each other's birthdays.

Dame Helen Mirren, then. A woman every bit as singular as her talent in the dramatic arts.