Last month, the news that Helen McCrory had died came as an unexpected gut-punch to all those – and there were legions of us – who loved both her work and, well, just her. Her husband, Damian Lewis, wrote a moving tribute in which he shared something that, perhaps, we already suspected: that even as quite possibly the finest actor of her generation, she was an even more brilliant person. And of her kindness, generosity and bravery, he wrote in The Sunday Times, ‘She has shone more brightly in the last months than you would imagine even the brightest star could shine. In life, too, we had to rise to meet her. But her greatest and most exquisite act of bravery and generosity has been to ‘normalise’ her death. She’s shown no fear, no bitterness, no self-pity, only armed us with the courage to go on and insisted that no one be sad, because she is happy. I’m staggered by her. She’s been a meteor in our life.’

With her untimely death at just 52, so her body of work – one of the finest of any contemporary actor we can think of – drew to a close, too. Whether audiences knew her as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise; for her Aunty Polly in Peaky Blinders; for her final performance as a Theresa May figure in David Hare’s Roadkill; or for her acclaimed-to-the-skies stage work, whether in Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, Pinter or Rattigan, among many others, she brought nuance, humanity and depth to everything she touched.

Helen McCrory was, it seems, universally loved, for her warmth and avowed lack of pretension or luvviness. We mourn all the future roles not taken; and we shall miss her. For now, though, we remind ourselves of her sheer excellence by watching some clips of the interviews she gave. What a woman.

On This Morning, 2017

You get a great sense of the much-celebrated Helen McCrory warmth, wit and gregariousness in this fun interview with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Talking about Fearless, the Patrick Harbinson-written series in which she plays a human rights lawyer, she reminisces about the time, ever the committed artiste, she chased an alarmed-seeming man down the street to grill him about the realities of being a barrister. Given the byzantine arrangements – both familial and professional – that enabled her to film Fearless, here she crosses her fingers that the show will be any good – ‘otherwise quite a lot of people are going to be quite cross with me. Including my husband and children… tune in, save a marriage today!’ We love her. Watch it here.

Interviewed By Andrew Marr, 2013

If you love Helen’s turn as the tough Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders, this is a fantastic interview to watch, having come out to coincide with that much-loved series’ first outing. She also talks to Andrew Marr about Cherie Blair, whom she played twice – most notably in The Queen. She says how, having studied her as David Attenborough might study a wild animal and assimilated all of her press, she was appalled at the treatment the former first lady. Watch it here.

On Medea At The National Theatre, 2014

Helen talks to Genista McIntosh about her relationship with the National, which she considers to have been formative. Straight out of drama school, she landed her third job in a play opposite a surprisingly giggly and often irreverent Judi Dench. She, by contrast, was, she says, ‘very earnest’ at the time. The chat then segues into her title role of Medea, the harrowing Euripides play about a woman who takes revenge on her husband by murdering their children. Having never watched or read it before she took the role, she says, ‘I decided I was going to have to learn to act in a very different way for this job,’ which, for her, meant having to draw a line between herself and the character. She adds, typically self-deprecatingly, ‘It turns out, I don’t know if anyone notices the difference!’ Watch it here.

On The Deep Blue Sea At The National Theatre, 2016

Helen returned to her spiritual home at the National to talk to Libby Purvis about her astonishing turn in Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, which was directed by Carrie Cracknell (as Medea had been, too). Riding the crest of a Rattigan revival, she was truly astonishing in the role of Hester Collyer, a judge’s wife who develops a passion for a younger man after having lived most of her life under spirit-crushing patriarchal control. It is wonderful to hear Helen talk about playing a character that Ratttigan once referred to as someone who ‘no one ever needed except inside a bedroom’ as a prototype feminist. Watch it here.

On Harold Pinter At The Donmar, 2013

Theatre critic Mark Shenton interviewed Helen McCrory on stage at the Donmar as she was playing Celia in Simon Gray’s The Late Middle Classes. In these few minutes, she regales a delighted audience with the time Harold Pinter came to the green room after she’d performed in one of his plays – only to lambast her for not wearing stockings.
Watch it here.

On Supporting Marie Curie, Lorraine, 2016

Helen McCrory was a long-time champion of Marie Curie. ‘I became involved when I realised I wasn’t immortal’ she says, extolling the exemplary nurses, the nine hospices and the kindness offered by the amazing charity. As she says, ‘It’s frightening, even if you have close family around you. Marie Curie herself said ‘There’s nothing in life to be feared, only to be understood,’ and to have a nurse there to explain to you what’s happening to your loved one… there’s someone there who can really, really help you and give emotional support to the family’. As ever, her humanity and kindness shine through. Watch it here.

Launching FeedNHS, Good Morning Britain, 2020

It is testament to Helen – and her husband Damian – that one of the last public things she did was to campaign for food to be provided for NHS workers during the pandemic. Given that we now know that she was not well at the time, it is the more moving. And yet, even the following year, just a month before she died, she went back on the same show – altruistically again – to raise awareness for The Prince’s Trust. The look of love, concern and pride that Damian Lewis gives her is incredibly touching. Watch it here.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2021

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