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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are DAME HELEN MIRREN (main picture), with SCARLETT JOHANSSON, PETRA NEMCOVA, ANDREW LLOYD-WEBBER and ZARA PHILLIPS


Dame Helen Mirren's portrayal of The Queen in Stephen Frears' film of the same name, has already been tipped for an Oscar nomination, even before its premiere this weekend at the Venice Film Festival.

Only recently, she received the TV equivalent, an Emmy, for her role as the first Queen Elizabeth - the Virgin Queen - for Channel 4.

Queens have become something of a speciality for her. She was Queen Charlotte in the Madness of King George. Inevitably, she has been dubbed "the reigning Queen of British drama".

And, as if to confirm her infinite variety in matters thespian, she has gladdened the hearts of downtrodden ITV executives by agreeing to star in yet another Prime Suspect drama, the seventh.

The series, for which Helen Mirren is perhaps best known, is popular around the world and, as a result, a welcome money-spinner.

Screen royalty

Her latest film depicts the efforts of Tony Blair to prevent the Queen from committing a public-relations disaster in the days following the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

It was the biggest crisis for the monarchy since the Abdication some forty years earlier. Headlines at the time screamed out "Where is our Queen?" and "Show us you care".

Dame Helen receives her Emmy for Elizabeth I
Receiving her Emmy for Elizabeth I
Helen Mirren was attracted to the part, she says, because of the "magical" script. "I'd be devastated if the Queen feels that I've betrayed her in my portrayal of her," says Mirren who was made a Dame in 2003.

Film actresses in their 60s, as Dame Helen now is, often complain that few parts are written for them. But Helen Mirren has not only had a steady stream of offers but quality ones too.

As Queen Elizabeth II, she has to portray someone wrestling with conflicting ideas about national identity and accusations that the monarchy has failed to keep up with modern values.

As Elizabeth I, she plays a woman whose character and temperament are fashioned by having her mother executed when she was two, having her throne threatened by more than one outside power, having to order the execution of her cousin, and falling in love with two Earls.

As with the current Elizabeth, she was torn between public duty and private emotions. The role has often been described as the actress's Hamlet. Such is Mirren's standing, she had a major influence on the script development.

Poor upbringing

DCI Jane Tennyson, of Prime Suspect, is the hardnosed cop succeeding through sheer commitment in a macho world. Yet she possesses a vulnerability that Mirren carries off so brilliantly.

Helen Mirren was ambivalent about becoming a dame. She never refers to herself as such. She was born Ilyena Lydia Mironov, the daughter of a Russian-born violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

To support his family, her father, a socialist, had to revert to driving a taxi to make ends meet. He had been brought to the UK as a child at a time when it was not easy being a foreigner.

The feeling of being something of an outsider was passed on to his daughter. Her working-class mother was similarly anti-monarchy.

Helen Mirren with Alan Rickman in Anthony and Cleopatra
With Alan Rickman in Anthony and Cleopatra
But Dame Helen is convinced they would have been proud to see her honoured in this way.

Her parents had wanted her to become a teacher, but the young Helen pursued her passion for acting and honed her craft through seven years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s.

Experimental theatre with director Peter Brook followed, and her film career took off with such movies as The Long Good Friday in which she played a gangster's moll.

She first made her mark in Hollywood when she appeared with Harrison Ford and River Phoenix in The Mosquito Coast in 1986. She has appeared in dozens of films since then, and keeps her clothes on in a few of them. Nevertheless, she says of herself that she was never pretty enough to become a sex symbol.

After what she once described as her "wild years", Helen Mirren settled down in 1986 with the US director, Taylor Hackford, who had cast her in his 1984 film White Nights. They finally married in 1997 in Scotland.

The couple live mainly in Los Angeles, but own properties in New Orleans, France and London which she regards as her spiritual home. She slips effortlessly between film and stage work.

Outside showbiz, Helen Mirren campaigns for various causes: on behalf of Oxfam against the arms trade, fighting to end Asia's sex-slave trade, or trying to stop the brutalisation of Ugandan children.

But for now, Dame Helen Mirren will be basking in a royal glow. The playwright Alan Bennett once said of her, "She is an actress as well as a film star, and there are plenty of film stars of whom that can't be said."

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett fever has broken out in Venice where the actress has been promoting her new picture, The Black Dahlia. The film, adapted from the James Elroy novel, is set in 1940s Hollywood. Johansson stars as a femme fatale and appeared at the premiere dressed in glamorous 40s chic. One reviewer told the actress that she exuded so much on-screen sex appeal during a scene with co-star Josh Hartnett that it could distract audiences from the plot.

Petra Nemcova

Fortune has smiled at last on Petra Nemcova. On Boxing Day 2004, the Czech model and her British fiance, Simon Atlee, had just returned from a beach walk in Thailand when the tsunami struck. Atlee was drowned, while Nemcova survived by clinging to a palm tree for eight hours. This week, the model, was chosen as the face of John Lewis for what the store described as her "ageless beauty".

Andrew Lloyd-Webber

The theatre director Trevor Nunn has criticised the musical mogul Andrew Lloyd-Webbers reality TV series. He has described How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? - in which women compete for the leading role in a production of The Sound of Music - as distasteful. Lloyd-Webber has suggested more West End shows may televise casting in this way. But Nunn says: "I think what these reality programmes more or less rely on is the viewing public being witness to distress."

Zara Phillips

Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and her former husband Mark Phillips, has proved she has inherited her parents' equestrian skills. She has won a gold medal at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, on her horse, Toytown, which her father bought her for a mere 400. She described her victory as "beyond her wildest dreams" and dedicated it to her friend and fellow eventer, Sherelle Duke, who died last week.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy

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