Helen McCrory: Stars pay tribute to Peaky Blinders actress

Helen McCrory: Stars pay tribute to Peaky Blinders actress

media caption Helen McCrory: The BBC’s David Sillito looks back on her life and career

Stars have paid tribute to Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter actress Helen McCrory who has died of cancer aged 52.

Cillian Murphy, who starred alongside her in the BBC drama, described her as “fearless and magnificent”.

Also known for her stage performances, National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris said she was “one of the great actors of her generation”.

Her husband, actor Damian Lewis, announced her death on Friday “after a heroic battle with cancer”.

He said he was “heartbroken”, and that she was a “beautiful and mighty woman”.

As well as her film and TV credits, she played seven lead roles at the National Theatre, whose boss Rufus Norris said: “With her incisive wit and ferocious intelligence, she was one of the most charismatic and distinctive performers.”

She also worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Almeida and the Donmar Warehouse, and earned rave reviews for her role in Uncle Vanya in London and New York in 2002 and 2003.

image caption Helen McCrory played seven lead roles at the National Theatre

Carrie Cracknell, who directed McCrory in a stage production of Medea, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can honestly say that working with Helen was one of the highlights of my professional life.

“She had this extraordinary, fierce depth of character and complexity and ability to articulate so many parts of the human condition.”

“She was this tiny, tiny woman and she would stand in the middle of the Olivier stage and sort of being possessed really, it was like she was transforming,” she said.

She said McCrory’s charity work and commitment to her family had defined her last few years of life, with her not wanting people to focus on her illness.

“She faced up to it with a level of bravery and humour that was completely extraordinary and as ever was teaching people how to live so it was a remarkable thing.”

Sir Richard Eyre, who gave McCrory one of her first significant stage roles in the 1990s, said one of the most upsetting things about her death was that “we will be deprived of major performances that she would have been able to give” and described her as a successor to Dame Judi Dench.

image captionLewis and McCrory met in the 2003 play Five Gold Rings

In 2003, she met Lewis when they both starred in a play called Five Gold Rings at the Almeida Theatre in London.

McCrory was nominated for two of London’s Olivier Awards for playing Rosalind in As You Like It in 2006, and for The Last of the Haussmans in 2013.

The actress was perhaps best known for playing Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby clan, in all five series of hit BBC period gang drama Peaky Blinders from its start in 2013.

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight said: “Helen was one of the great actors of her generation. She was so powerful and controlled and this is so sad.”

media caption Helen McCrory starred as Aunt Polly in all five series of Peaky Blinders

Murphy, who played Tommy Shelby in the show, added he was “broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend”, describing her as “a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being”.

“She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played,” he said, adding it was “a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman… I will dearly miss my pal”.

BBC director of drama Piers Wenger added: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see.”

Actor Michael Sheen, who worked with McCrory on the 2006 film The Queen and more recently in ITV drama Quiz, described her death as “heartbreaking” and said it had been “an honour to work with her and know her” in a post on social media.

“So funny, so passionate, so smart and one of the greatest actors of our time,” he tweeted.

“From the first moment I met her when we were just kids it was obvious she was very special.”

Alongside a photo of McCrory, actress Dame Helen Mirren wrote on Instagram: “A great actress and a great person. this is so very very sad.”

image caption Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory married in 2007

McCrory married Homeland star Lewis in 2007 and they had two children.

Last year, the couple raised more than £1m to provide NHS workers with meals from high street restaurants during the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Comedian Matt Lucas, who worked with them on the FeedNHS campaign, tweeted that she “will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity”.

McCrory played Narcissa Malfoy, the wife of Lucius Malfoy and Draco’s mother, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2.

In her tribute, Harry Potter author JK Rowling wrote: “I’m devastated to learn of the death of Helen McCrory, an extraordinary actress and a wonderful woman who’s left us far too soon.

“My deepest condolences to her family, especially her husband and children.”

image caption with Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy (left) and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Her other screen roles included the MP Clair Dowar in the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie in the films The Queen and The Special Relationship.

She provided the voice of Stelmaria, Lord Asriel’s snow leopard daemon, in the recent BBC One TV series His Dark Materials, and the show’s Twitter account called her “uniquely talented”.

Film and theatre director Sir Sam Mendes, who directed Skyfall, remembered her as “an astonishing talent, a fabulous person, and an absolute true original”.

image caption she played Cherie Blair in the 2006 film The Queen

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