THE HOUSE OF HE­LEN

He­len Mir­ren has al­ways avoided ghost sto­ries. Un­til now...

Empire (Australasia) - - Preview - JOHN NUGENT

IN A NEAR 50-year ca­reer, Dame

He­len Mir­ren has never made a hor­ror movie. There’s the vaguely sin­is­ter teen thriller Teach­ing Mrs. Tin­gle, and she was a bit of a beast in Mon­sters Univer­sity, but there’s noth­ing on her CV too spooky. Winch­ester is a first for the Os­car-win­ning ac­tor, with all the trap­pings of a good, old-fash­ioned chiller: a haunted house, lav­ish gothic cos­tumes, jump scares — and ghosts.

Mir­ren, how­ever, dis­agrees.

“I wouldn’t call this a hor­ror movie,” she tells Em­pire. “It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal drama.” A beat. “With ghosts,” she laughs.

What­ever genre it falls into, Winch­ester is based on a mys­te­ri­ous real-life fig­ure. Mir­ren plays Sarah Winch­ester, the widow and heir of gun ty­coon Wil­liam Wirt Winch­ester.

She spent her for­tune build­ing a vast

San Jose man­sion, con­tin­u­ously un­der con­struc­tion for over 40 years. Le­gends soon sprung up that the house was haunted by those killed by Winch­ester ri­fles — and see­ing as it was known as “the gun that won the West”, that’s a heck of a lot of ghosts.

“I don’t re­ally be­lieve in ghosts,” says Mir­ren, when Em­pire joins her in one of

the Winch­ester House’s 161 rooms.

“But I be­lieve in the power of be­lief. If you be­lieve strongly enough, who am I to say it’s not there?” Sarah Winch­ester cer­tainly be­lieved: ac­cord­ing to leg­end, she would hold nightly séances, with the spir­its act­ing as para­nor­mal ar­chi­tects. The house — now a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion — is a be­wil­der­ing rab­bit-war­ren mess. Em­pire gets lost al­most im­me­di­ately.

“It has that won­der­ful Alice In Won­der­land-ish feel­ing,” says Mir­ren.

Ja­son Clarke, who plays psy­chi­a­trist Eric Price, sent to as­sess Sarah, af­firms that “it’s not a cheap spooky movie, it has weight and mean­ing”, and mar­vels at act­ing op­po­site Mir­ren. “On some­thing like this, you’ve got to go big or go home — and still make it real,” he says. “I mean, she’s played Cleopa­tra three times! She knows how to go big.” She may not (quite) be break­ing the habit of a ca­reer, but this prom­ises to be a He­len Mir­ren per­for­mance un­like any other.

WINCH­ESTER IS IN CIN­E­MAS FROM 22 FE­BRU­ARY

We spoke with He­len Mir­ren and Ja­son Clarke in the US on 5 May 2017.

Top: He­len Mir­ren as griev­ing widow Sarah Winch­ester. Above: With Dr Price (Ja­son Clarke).

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