Helen McCrory
McCrory in 2017
Born
Helen Elizabeth McCrory

(1968-08-17)17 August 1968
Died16 April 2021(2021-04-16) (aged 52)
Tufnell Park, London, England
Alma materDrama Centre London
OccupationActress
Years active1990–2021
Spouse
(m. 2007)
Children2

Helen Elizabeth McCrory OBE (17 August 1968 – 16 April 2021) was an English actress. After studying at the Drama Centre London, she made her professional stage debut in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1990. Other theatre roles include playing Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe, Olivia in Twelfth Night, Rosalind in As You Like It in the West End, and Medea in the eponymous play at the Royal National Theatre.

McCrory is known for her film roles as Françoise in Charlotte Gray (2001); Cherie Blair in both The Queen (2006) and The Special Relationship (2010), alongside Michael Sheen, who portrayed husband and Prime Minister Tony Blair in both; Narcissa Malfoy in the final three Harry Potter films (2009, 2010, 2011); Mama Jeanne in Hugo (2011); and Clair Dowar in the James Bond film Skyfall (2012). She was also known for her television roles as Polly Gray in the BBC series Peaky Blinders (2013–2021); Madame Kali in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful (2014–15); Emma Banville in the ITV series Fearless (2017); and Kathryn Villiers in the BBC mini-series MotherFatherSon (2019).

Early life

McCrory was born on 17 August 1968 in Paddington, London.[1][2] Her mother, Ann (née Morgans), is a Welsh physiotherapist,[3] and her father, Iain McCrory (born 29 March 1940), is a diplomat from Glasgow; they were married in 1968.[4] She was the eldest of three children.[5]

McCrory was educated at Queenswood School near Hatfield, Hertfordshire,[6] then spent a year living in Italy. Upon her return to Britain, she began studying acting at the Drama Centre in London.[7][8]

Career

McCrory won third prize at the Ian Charleson Awards for her 1993 performance as Rose Trelawny in Trelawny of the 'Wells' at the National Theatre.[9] In 2002, she was nominated for a London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress (for playing Elena in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the Donmar Warehouse).[10] She was later nominated for a 2006 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for her role as Rosalind in As You Like It in the West End.[7] In April 2008, McCrory made a "compelling" Rebecca West in a production of Ibsen's Rosmersholm at the Almeida Theatre, London.[11] She appeared in Charles II: The Power and The Passion (2003), as Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and in supporting roles in such films as Interview with the Vampire (1994), Charlotte Gray (2001), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) and Casanova (2005). In the critically acclaimed film The Queen (2006), she played Cherie Blair, a role she reprised in Peter Morgan's follow-up The Special Relationship (2010).[7][8]

McCrory speaking at the unveiling of a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London in 2018

She appeared in a modernised television adaptation of Frankenstein (2007). In 2006, her first pregnancy forced her to pull out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), in which she had been cast as Bellatrix Lestrange (she was replaced by Helena Bonham Carter). McCrory was later cast as Bellatrix's sister Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released in July 2009.[12][13] In 2010 and 2011, she reprised her role in the final films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. She also played the principal villain role of Rosanna Calvierri in the 2010 episode "The Vampires of Venice" of the BBC television series Doctor Who.[8]

McCrory starred in The Last of the Haussmans alongside Julie Walters and Rory Kinnear at the Royal National Theatre, which began 12 June 2012. The production was broadcast to cinemas around the world on 11 October 2012 through the National Theatre Live programme.[14] In the same year, she also appeared in the twenty-third James Bond film Skyfall as Clair Dowar MP. McCrory also played lead role, wedding director Julie Ranmore, in the three-part ITV drama Leaving. In 2013, McCrory narrated poetry for The Love Book App, an interactive anthology of love literature developed by Allie Byrne Esiri.[15] Again in 2013, she played Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at the Little Angel Theatre. The same year, she began playing Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders, which she continued to star in alongside Cillian Murphy for 5 series until 2019.[8] In 2020, she was set to star in the final series of Peaky Blinders until production was shut down five days before filming was set to begin in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When production resumed in January 2021, she was unable to return due to breast cancer and the script had to be rewritten following her death. She appears in series 6 through archive and unreleased footage.[16]

In 2014, McCrory played the title role in the National Theatre's production of Medea, directed by Carrie Cracknell. Her performance was critically acclaimed.[17] Also in 2014, she made a guest appearance on the TV series Penny Dreadful. She returned as a regular for the show's second season, playing the main antagonist.[7][8] In 2014, McCrory also starred in A Little Chaos, opposite Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman who also directed the film.[18] In 2016, she starred as Hester in the stage play The Deep Blue Sea, which was filmed and shown live in cinemas worldwide on 1 September 2016 as part of National Theatre Live.[19] McCrory was confirmed to play the lead role, human-rights lawyer Emma Banville, in six-part ITV drama series Fearless, which aired in June 2017.[20]

In 2019, McCrory starred as Kathryn Villiers in Tom Rob Smith’s MotherFatherSon alongside Richard Gere and Billy Howle.[21] It averaged 2.69 million viewers.[22] In 2020, she played Sonia Woodley QC in the ITV drama Quiz, which received a large audience while it was on the air during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns with the first episode seen live by an average of 5.3 million viewers in the UK.[23] In June 2020, McCrory was featured in an episode of the BBC Radio 4's programme Desert Island Discs;[24] Donna Ferguson from The Guardian called the episode one of five key shows in the programme's 80 year history.[25] In her final television performance, she starred as Prime Minister Dawn Ellison in the BBC four-part drama Roadkill, which aired in October 2020.[8] Her final performance was in the animated biographical film Charlotte, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021 and was released in 2022.[26]

Personal life

McCrory and Damian Lewis at the 2013 BAFTA Awards

On 4 July 2007, McCrory married actor Damian Lewis;[27] the couple had a daughter, Manon (born 2006), and a son, Gulliver (born 2007).[28] Their main home was in Tufnell Park, North London, and they had another near Sudbury in Suffolk.[29]

Philanthropy

McCrory served as an honorary patron of the London children's charity Scene & Heard.[30] She also served as patron for the charity Sir Hubert von Herkomer (HVH) Arts Foundation, dedicated to offering youth a gateway to the arts, which her husband Damian Lewis took over as patron in 2021 following her death.[31] During the COVID-19 pandemic, she and Lewis supported Feed NHS, a programme to give food from high-street restaurants to NHS staff, and had raised £1 million for the charity by early April 2020.[32] In 2022, Lewis received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) partially for their charity work with the NHS, which he shared with McCrory by posting to Twitter with the hashtag #CBESharingItWithHelen and telling the PA news agency "She and I are both thrilled".[33] McCrory was also an ambassador with the charity The Prince's Trust, which she spoke about on Good Morning Britain in her final public appearance in March 2021.[34]

Honours

In 2016, McCrory received an honorary doctorate from the University of York.[35] In 2017, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to drama.[36]

Death

McCrory died of breast cancer at her home in London on 16 April 2021, aged 52.[37][38][39] Announcing the death on Twitter, husband Damian Lewis stated that she had died "peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family."[40][41] She had kept her diagnosis private while receiving treatment and continuing to work. "Very, very few people" knew of her illness before her death as she did not want her illness to overshadow her professional and charitable work.[42]

She was filming for season 6 of Peaky Blinders at the time of her death. In her absence, the storyline had to be altered and certain parts were reshot.[16] In addition to Peaky Blinders, her last appearances include the 2016 stage production of The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre, an episode of the show Have I Got News For You in 2019, two seasons of the drama His Dark Materials, the 2020 ITV drama Quiz, the BBC drama Roadkill, and the animated film Charlotte.[42]

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1994 Interview with the Vampire 2nd Mistress [43]
1994 Uncovered Lola [44]
1997 The James Gang Bernadette James [45]
1998 Dad Savage Chris [46]
2000 Hotel Splendide Lorna Bull [47]
2001 Charlotte Gray Francoise [48]
2002 The Count of Monte Cristo Valentina Villefort [37]
2002 Deep Down Dana Short film [49]
2003 Does God Play Football Sarah Ward Short film [50]
2004 Enduring Love Mrs. Logan [51]
2005 Casanova Casanova's Mother [47]
2006 Normal for Norfolk Clare Short film [52]
2006 The Queen Cherie Blair [37]
2007 Becoming Jane Mrs. Radcliffe [47]
2008 Flashbacks of a Fool Peggy Tickell [53]
2009 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Narcissa Malfoy [40]
2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox Mrs. Bean (voice) [54]
2010 4.3.2.1. Mrs. Jones [55]
2010 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Narcissa Malfoy [40]
2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 [40]
2011 Hugo Mama Jeanne (Jehanne D'Alcy) [56]
2012 Flying Blind Dr. Frankie Lethbridge [57]
2012 Skyfall Clair Dowar MP [58]
2014 A Little Chaos Madame Françoise Le Nôtre [47]
2015 The Woman in Black: Angel of Death Jean Hogg [47]
2015 Bill Queen Elizabeth I [47]
2016 Their Finest Sophie Smith [59]
2017 Loving Vincent Louise Chevalier (voice) [60]
2021 Charlotte Paula Lindberg-Salomon (voice) Posthumous release [26]

Television

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1993 Full Stretch Vicki Goodall Episode: "Risky Business" [61]
1993 Performance Jean Rice Episode: "The Entertainer" [62]
1995 Screen Two Jo Episode: "Streetlife" [61]
1995 Dirty Old Town Claire Television film [63]
1996 The Fragile Heart Nicola Pascoe 3 episodes [55]
1996 Witness Against Hitler Freya von Moltke Television film [55]
1997 Trial & Retribution Anita Harris 2 episodes [64]
1998 Spoonface Steinberg Mother Television film [55]
1998 Stand and Deliver Christina Television special [55]
1999 Split Second Angie Anderson Television film [55]
2000 Anna Karenina Anna Karenina 4 episodes [47]
2000 North Square Rose Fitzgerald 10 episodes [61]
2001 In a Land of Plenty Mary Freeman 3 episodes [55]
2002 The Jury Rose Davies 6 episodes [55]
2002 Dickens Kate Dickens 3 episodes [55]
2002 Dead Gorgeous Antonia Ashton Television film [47]
2003 Lucky Jim Margaret Peel Television film [55]
2003 Carla Carla French Television film [55]
2003 Charles II: The Power and the Passion Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Villiers) 4 episodes [55]
2004 Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking Jenny Vandeleur Television film [55]
2005 Messiah: The Harrowing Dr. Rachel Price 3 episodes [55]
2007 Frankenstein Dr. Victoria Frankenstein Television film [55]
2009 Life Amanda Puryer 5 episodes [65]
2010 Doctor Who Rosanna Calvierri Episode: "The Vampires of Venice" [8]
2010 The Special Relationship Cherie Blair Television film [8]
2011 Phineas and Ferb Lucy Fletcher (voice) Episode: "My Fair Goalie" [66]
2012 We'll Take Manhattan Lady Clare Rendlesham Television film [55]
2012 Leaving Julie Ranmore Main role; 3 episodes [55]
2013–2022 Peaky Blinders Polly Gray Main role (Series 1-5); Archive footage (Series 6); 30 episodes [47]
2014 Inside No. 9 Tabitha Episode: "The Harrowing" [8]
2014 Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This Mary Kay Television film [67]
2014–2015 Penny Dreadful Evelyn Poole (Madame Kali) Recurring (Season 1); Main role (Season 2); 12 episodes [47]
2017 Fearless Emma Banville Main role; 6 episodes [5]
2019 MotherFatherSon Kathryn Villiers Main role; 8 episodes [62]
2019 Have I Got News for You Herself (host) Episode #58.7 [68]
2019–2020 His Dark Materials Stelmaria (voice) Voice cast (Series 1-2); 4 episodes [8]
2020 Quiz Sonia Woodley QC Main role; 2 episodes [47]
2020 Roadkill Dawn Ellison Main role; 4 episodes [8]

Stage

Year Title Role Venue(s) Ref.
1990 The Importance of Being Earnest Gwendolen Fairfax Harrogate Theatre [69]
1990 Teechers Gail Saunders Harrogate Theatre [7]
1990 Macbeth Witch Riverside Studios [7]
1991 Pride and Prejudice Lydia Bennet [70]
1991 Blood Wedding The Bride [71]
1992 Fuente Ovejuna Jacinta [72]
1992 Don't Fool With Love Camille [73]
1993 Trelawny of the 'Wells' Rose Trelawny [7]
1994 Venice Preserved Belvidera Royal Exchange Theatre [72]
1994 The Seagull Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya Olivier Theatre [74]
1994–1995 The Devil's Disciple Judith Anderson National Theatre [75]
1995 Keely And Du Keely Olympia Theatre [72]
1995 Macbeth Lady Macbeth Shakespeare's Globe [7]
1995–1996 Les Enfants du paradis Claire "Garance" Reine Barbican Theatre [76]
1998 In a Little World of Our Own Deborah Donmar Warehouse [72]
1998 How I Learned to Drive Li'I Bit Donmar Warehouse [77]
1999 The Triumph of Love Princess Leonide (alias Phocion) Almeida Theatre [72]
2000–2001 Platonov Anna Petrovna Almeida Theatre [72]
2002 Uncle Vanya Helena Andreyevna Serebryakova (Yelena) Donmar Warehouse [7]
2002 Twelfth Night Olivia Donmar Warehouse [72]
2003–2004 Five Gold Rings Miranda Almeida Theatre [72]
2004 Old Times Anna Donmar Warehouse [78]
2005 As You Like It Rosalind Wyndham's Theatre [79]
2008 Rosmersholm Rebecca West Almeida Theatre [80]
2010–2012 The Late Middle Classes Celia Smithers Donmar Warehouse [7]
2012 The Last of the Haussmans Libby Haussmans Lyttelton Theatre [81]
2014 Medea Medea Olivier Theatre [7]
2016 The Deep Blue Sea Hester Collyer Lyttelton Theatre [19]

Awards and nominations

Sources:[7][8]

Year Title Award Category Result
1991 Blood Wedding Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards Best Actress Won
1993 Trelawny of the 'Wells' Ian Charleson Award Best Actress 3rd place
1995 Macbeth Shakespeare Globe Awards Richard Burton Award For Most Promising Newcomer Won
Streetlife Monte-Carlo Television Festival Best Actress Won
Royal Television Society Best Actress Won
1997 BAFTA Cymru Best Actress Won
The Fragile Heart London Film Critics' Circle Actress of the Year Nominated
2001 North Square London Film Critics' Circle Best Actress Won
Broadcasting Press Guild Awards Best Actress Won
2002 Uncle Vanya Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Actress Nominated
2003 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Nominated
WhatsOnStage Awards Best Actress in a Play Nominated
2004 Charles II: The Power and The Passion Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2005 L.A. Television Awards Best Actress Nominated
2006 As You Like It WhatsOnStage Awards Best Actress in a Play Nominated
Laurence Olivier Award Best Actress Nominated
2007 The Queen London Film Critics' Circle Supporting Actress of the Year Nominated
2008 Rosmersholm Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Actress (longlisted) Nominated
2011 The Late Middle Classes WhatsOnStage Awards Best Actress in a Play Nominated
2012 Royal Television Society Best Actress Nominated
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 2 Gold Derby Awards Ensemble Cast Nominated
The Last of the Haussmans Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Actress Nominated
2013 Glamour Awards Theatre Actress of the Year Won
WhatsOnStage Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Play Nominated
Laurence Olivier Award Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominated
2014 Peaky Blinders Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming TV Series and Serials: Actress Won
Crime Thriller Awards Best Supporting Actress Nominated
Medea Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Actress Nominated
2015 Critics' Circle Theatre Award Best Actress Won
Penny Dreadful Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2016 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Nominated
The Deep Blue Sea Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Actress Nominated
WhatsOnStage Awards Best Actress in a Play Nominated

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