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Now Mirren hits out at TV's body count: 'Most of these victims are young women': As the film industry gathers for the Baftas ceremony tonight, the Prime Suspect star tells Vanessa Thorpe that, like David Hare, she is fed up with increasing violence on screen

February 16, 2014

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

On the eve of the awards ceremony where she will receive the British film industry's highest honour tonight - a Bafta fellowship, from Prince William - Dame Helen Mirren has criticised the growing number of dead women in British television drama.

Mirren told the Observer that she agreed with the playwright David Hare's recent complaints about the bloodthirsty nature of most drama on British TV, saying there was a clear sexual divide when it came to the corpses. "Most of those bodies are young women," she said.

Hare had spoken out against the number of murder victims on television at the launch of the second of his Worricker trilogy of films last week. "I can't personally stand the body count in contemporary drama," he said.

The British playwright had added that the Nordic thriller series The Bridge was one of the biggest offenders, although he enjoyed it. Fresh corpses also appear in many British-made dramas and series, such as Silent Witness, Lewis, Whitechapel, Ripper Street, What Remains and The Fall, the BBC2 drama serial starring Gillian Anderson, in which a rapist and serial killer preys on a string of attractive young women.

Mirren's views about the level of violence in popular entertainment have come to light since she starred in the first of two Hollywood comic action thrillers, Red and Red 2, alongside Bruce Willis and John Malkovich.

One of her early breakthrough film roles was as Victoria, Bob Hoskins's girlfriend, in the violent 1980 gangster thriller The Long Good Friday. But two years ago Mirren asked the director of Red 2, Dean Parisot, to make sure she was not depicted killing any of her victims in the sequences involving gunfire.

It was, Mirren feared, "a losing battle", but she added: "I do get terribly upset when I see films where people are just randomly shot. I think they all have families to go to, children at home."

The 68-year-old said she would like to take on a fresh television role next, if she could avoid a violent plotline, because she believed much of the best writing was now done for television.

"I think British television has been very good for a long time. When people in Hollywood used to ask me how the British film industry was, I would say: 'It is alive and well and on television'. Now I think the Americans have rather caught up on us and they too are producing great television. Britain has been doing it right back to early Dennis Potter and Stephen Poliakoff plays and all those serialised adaptations of the classics."

Before Mirren become widely known for playing police inspector Jane Tennison in the award-winning Prime Suspect series in the 1990s, she appeared in acclaimed television films such as the 1979 film of Potter's play Blue Remembered Hills and in Poliakoff's Soft Target in 1982. The actress won one of her four Emmy awards in the US for portraying Elizabeth I for Channel 4 in 2005. She won another in 2007 for reprising the role of Tennison in The Final Act

This weekend Mirren said she believed British acting was enjoying a great flowering and she spoke about her hopes for British victories tonight.

"I know who I hope will be a big winner this year," she said at the Savoy event hosted by the Bafta sponsors Hackett. "And that's 12 Years A Slave - I'd love to see Chiwetel Ejiofor win and obviously I'd love to see the director, Steve McQueen, win too. I know the film has already got lots of attention, but it would benefit from it because it would make more people see it."

Commenting on the number of black British actors to find recent success in the US, including Ejiofor, David Harewood and Idris Elba, Mirren said she had not found any resentment from black American actors in Hollywood.

"We are only talking about four or five British actors anyway. It seems like a lot at one time but in a way, the surprising thing is that it has taken so long."

Mirren, who is married to the American director Taylor Hackford, is the only actress to have played both Elizabeth I and II on screen. Her portrayal of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen earned her a Bafta, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for best actress.

Celebrating yesterday in the company of her sister Kate and friends, Mirren said she was "thrilled and honoured". "I don't think Prince William would agree to hand me the award if he thought I had blown it in terms of performing as his grandma," she said.

Mirren said she had written her acceptance speech without help. "Of course, isn't that what everyone does?" she asked, admitting that with four Bafta wins, an Oscar, three Golden Globes and four Emmys she has had some practice.

"I have gone through it with my husband, but just in outline. I don't want to go over it too much because it won't sound right.

"I am also aware that it comes at the end of a long evening, when people are looking at their watches and thinking about the journey home."


Born Illiana Lydia Petrovna Mironova into emigre Russian aristocracy in 1945 in Chiswick.

Early roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Lady Macbeth in 1974, earned her the unwelcome title "the Sex Queen of Stratford".

In 1980 she appeared in the explicit film Caligula with Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole.

She met her husband, director Taylor Hackford, on the set of his 1985 film White Nights.

Four years later she starred in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

In 1992 she created the role of Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, earning her five Baftas.

Her first Oscar nomination came for playing Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George in 1994 and her first

win came in 2006 for Elizabeth II in The Queen

A fourth Oscar nomination came in 2010 for her role in the Leo Tolstoy biopic The Last Station.

Last year she won an Olivier for playing Elizabeth II on stage in The Audience.


Helen Mirren as DS Jane Tennison in the final series

of Prime Suspect. Rex

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Source: Observer (UK)

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