Feb 24, 2008

DVD Review: Helen Mirren at the BBC

If you love Helen Mirren (and c'mon, who doesn't -- I mean, The Queen, Prime Suspect -- the chick is badass, no?) then you have to check out a new DVD collection out this week. It's called Helen Mirren at the BBC, and, even if you've got the tote bag and coffee mug to attest to the tons of money you've already given PBS as thanks for showing so much great British TV, I can promise you that you haven't seen this stuff.

I'm pretty sure, anyway, that none of this stuff has ever aired here in America. Seventeenth-century Jacobean tragedy? Yeah, that's gonna try the patience of even the most attentive American viewer ... at least, that would have been the attitude. This five-disc, nine-movie set starts out with the 1974 BBC production of The Changeling, a 1622 drama in which Mirren plays the anti-heroine Beatrice-Joanna, who does some very naughty things in the name of love. (A young Brian Cox stars as her lover.) She rocks it, and from there on it's just nonstop Mirren awesomeness as she takes on George Bernard Shaw's 1929 play The Apple Cart, portraying the mistress of the king of England in this 1975 production, before appearing as Benito Mussolini's lover in Caesar and Claretta, also from 1975. (Robert Hardy, who was Siegfried in All Creatures Great and Small and Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies, plays the dictator, which is just plain weird.)

There's more: A 1975 production of a play called The Philanthropist by Atonement screenwriter Christopher Hampton; Mirren again plays the lover of an older, more powerful man. A 1975 adaptation of a novel by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie called The Little Minister; here Mirren gets to foment revolution in 1840s Scotland. A wonderfully weird 1979 made-for-TV film, Blue Remembered Hills, by Singing Detective author Dennis Potter, in which the adult cast members portray small children; Mirren pouts and sulks as a pigtailed little snot called Angela.

And that's still not all. These nine TV plays are amazing examples of what TV at its best can do; even though most of these are studio-bound and shot on video (as most BBC productions were in the 70s and early 80s), they're still totally gripping. They're also essential for understanding Mirren's talent as we see it today. She's made a career of portraying smart, strong, ambitious women, and this is where it all began.

Watch an exclusive clip from the DVD, in which Mirren talk about her tast in men.

MaryAnn Johanson
reviews, reviews, reviews! at FlickFilosopher.com

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