Helen McCrory: 10 of her best roles, from Harry Potter to Peaky Blinders

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Helen McCrory in Skyfall (2012) (MGM/Columbia/EON Productions)
Helen McCrory in Skyfall (2012) (MGM/Columbia/EON Productions)

The world was shaken by the death of stage and screen actor Helen McCrory earlier today (16 April).

Her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, who married McCrory in 2007, shared a statement on Twitter revealing that she had died peacefully at home after “a heroic battle with cancer”.

Tributes have poured in for the star, with figures including Matt Lucas, Elizabeth McGovern, Reece Shearsmith and Tony Robinson voicing their admiration for the late actor.

McCrory was renowned within the industry for her work on stage, with her work in productions of Medea and Uncle Vanya earning particularly effusive acclaim.

However, to a wider audience, she was also known for her work in film and TV.

This encompassed serious dramatic roles, such as her turn as Cherie Blair in the Oscar-winning biopic The Queen, and lighter genre fare, such as Skyfall and Harry Potter.

One of her most beloved roles came in the British crime drama Peaky Blinders.

Here are 10 of McCrory’s finest roles across film, TV and theatre.

The Fragile Heart, 1996 (TV)

McCrory shone as the daughter of a high-profile surgeon in the 1996 Channel 4 dramaThe Fragile Heart. The series comprised just three episodes, but the actor made a real impression as the hard-edged Nicola Pascoe, who seeks to live up to her father’s greatness. At the London Film Critics’ Circle, McCrory was recognised with a nomination for Actress of the Year for her work on the show.

North Square, 2000 (TV)

McCrory took home a Best Actress award from the London Film Critics’ Circle for her role in North Square, a short-lived but acclaimed legal drama series created by Peter Moffat. In the show, McCrory played Rose Fitzgerald, a new mother who works in Leeds’ barrister’s chambers. The series was cancelled due to a lack of viewership, but McCrory’s deft work on the show was praised by critics at the time.

Uncle Vanya, 2002 (theatre)

Onstage, McCrory’s sensual portrayal of Yelena in Sam Mendes’s revival of Uncle Vanya won over critics. “The moment Yelena, played by Helen McCrory, saunters onto the stage oozing sensuality and then exits, leaving behind her a freshly picked flower in full bloom, one feels the centrifugal force of desire which will soon have the characters spinning in ever widening circles of loneliness and dejection,” wrote one reviewer.

The Queen, 2006 (film)

McCrory was venerated for her turn in the Elizabeth II biopic The Queen, in which she played Cherie Blair. It was a role she inhabited so well that she would later reprise it in 2010, for The Special Relationship.

Pathé Distribution
Pathé Distribution

As You Like It, 2009 (theatre)

In this West End production of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, McCrory was magnetic as the cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind, who flees her vicious uncle’s court for the Forest of Arden. “What McCrory magically brings out is both the pain and ecstasy of love,” wrote one reviewer.

The Harry Potter franchise, 2009-2011 (film)

As Narcissa Malfoy, McCrory added a human quality to JK Rowling’s character, who was depicted as colder and far less sympathetic in the books. McCrory’s Narcissa was constantly afraid for her son, Draco, and willing to do anything to protect him.

McCrory as seen in the Harry Potter filmsYouTube/Warner Bros Pictures
McCrory as seen in the Harry Potter filmsYouTube/Warner Bros Pictures

Skyfall, 2012 (film)

One of the roles with which McCrory would be popularly associated came in the 2012 James Bond outing Skyfall. As the UK Home Secretary Claire Dowar, McCrory featured in one of the film’s biggest set-pieces, when Judi Dench’s M was attacked in a courtroom. It might not be one of McRory’s most challenging roles, but it was a typically tight performance that helped give the film’s bombast some grounding.

Peaky Blinders, 2013-2019 (TV)

McCrory was a constant, scene-stealing presence as Polly Shelby, aunt to Peaky Blinders boss Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), in the BBC’s hit series about the Birmingham crime family. While the rest of the family never questioned Tommy, McCrory’s Aunt Polly was a force to be reckoned with in her own right.

McCrory as Polly in Peaky BlindersBBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky
McCrory as Polly in Peaky BlindersBBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky

Medea, 2014 (theatre)

In her wild yet smooth and slinky depiction of the murderess, McCrory painted a “complex portrait” of a woman who is “both rational and irrational, in the grip of a vengeful idée fixe and yet open to maternal feeling”, wrote one critic. The Independent’s theatre critic Paul Taylor said: “McCrory gives a performance of scorching emotional power and searching psychological acuity.”

Penny Dreadful, 2014-2015 (TV)

McCrory was no stranger to genre TV, having appeared in shows such as Doctor Who and His Dark Materials. But her work in the British-American horror series Penny Dreadful remains particularly memorable.

Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME
Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

In the show, McCrory played Evelyn Poole, also known as Madame Kali, a spiritualist who commands the Nightcomers, a coven of witches. After appearing sporadically in series one, she was upped to a regular for its second season, fulfilling the role of its main villain. McCrory was nominated for Critics’ Choice and Satellite awards for her charismatic turn as Poole.

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