LURE OF THE SIREN

He­len Mir­ren, at 69, is be­ing of­fered bet­ter roles now than when she was a young ac­tress. She re­veals the se­cret to her longevity to

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

HE­LEN Mir­ren greets me with a naughty chuckle be­fore I’m even through the door. “Have you seen it? Did you hate it? Ha ha ha! Don’t worry, you can tell me!” she says, re­fer­ring to her lat­est movie, The Hun­dred-Foot Jour­ney. The film is a food-based melo­drama, di­rected by Cho­co­lat’s Lasse Hall­strom, that fea­tures Mir­ren as the icy French pro­pri­etor of a Miche­lin­starred restau­rant, a woman whose life is seem­ingly up-ended when an In­dian restau­ra­teur ( Om Puri) de­cides to open shop right across the street. It has been mauled by crit­ics, yet is do­ing well with “real” au­di­ences.

“Cer­tainly the vibe I’m get­ting, and I don’t think I’m mis­taken, is that peo­ple are gen­uinely en­joy­ing this film,” Mir­ren says, be­fore ask­ing me again for my opin­ion.

I tell her, diplo­mat­i­cally, that I am aware of the di­rec­tor’s oeu­vre and thus knew ex­actly what to ex­pect (imag­ine Cho­co­lat, then re­place the choco­late with truffles and curry, and add in a bit of shout­ing).

I sug­gest in­stead that the most in­ter­est­ing scene is the mo­ment when fiery young chef Has­san (Man­ish Dayal) makes an omelet with Mir­ren’s Madame Mal­lory. His hands are ban­daged (don’t ask) so she needs to help. He or­ders her. She takes in­struc­tion. Silently, the pair brushes against each other. Eggs are beaten. Ten­sion crack­les. Fi­nally, she eats his omelet — and groans aloud. It is, clearly, a sub­li­mated sex scene. “Yes!” says Mir­ren to­day, clap­ping her hands and hoot­ing. “I never thought of that, but, yes, it’s true. I love it.”

It’s also true that after this one scene it be- comes more dif­fi­cult to ac­cept the bur­geon­ing screen ro­mance be­tween Mir­ren’s Mal­lory and Puri’s wiz­ened an­tag­o­nist — part of you is al­ways scream­ing out, “Why is she with this old dude? She should be bang­ing the young guy with the omelet!” More im­por­tant, it’s il­lus­tra­tive of the es­sen­tial truth about Mir­ren, 69- year-old Os­car-win­ner, BAFTA fel­low­ship re­cip­i­ent, dame and oc­ca­sional queen: namely, she is the most sin­gu­lar ac­tress work­ing in film to­day. Think about it. Very few male ac­tors are strong enough to match her on screen. From the house­keeper in Gos­ford Park to the as­sas­sin in Shadow Boxer to the ed­i­tor in State of Play and a se­ries of queens and Prime Sus­pect ap­pear­ances, she is al­ways a for­mi­da­ble, of­ten soli­tary pres­ence. (Her near­est male equiv­a­lent is, per­haps, Clint East­wood.) When they do pair her up with a male co-star it has to be a gi­ant of an ac­tor, such as An­thony Hop­kins in Hitch­cock or Christo­pher Plum­mer in The Last Sta­tion.

We talk about her sin­gu­lar­ity to­day and she says that it goes back to 1980 and The Long Good Fri­day, and how she was de­ter­mined to make some­thing sub­stan­tial out of a to­kenis­tic role as the gang­ster’s moll.

“I must’ve been such a pain in the butt, so an­noy­ing,” she says. “Be­cause I walked in on day one of shoot­ing and said, ‘Right. I’ve rewrit­ten my scene, and I’ve jigged it all around to make her a stronger character.’ But that was my one con­di­tion of do­ing the film, so I stuck with it, and it made the movie bet­ter.”

Then, of course, there’s sex­u­al­ity. An ex­plo­sive is­sue for Mir­ren: she has al­ways lived along Hun­dred-Foot Jour­ney;

The Long Good Fri­day

The

He­len Mir­ren as Madame Mal­lory in

and, be­low, in

1980’s

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