British Theatre is mourning the loss of one of the finest actors of her generation, the mighty Helen McCrory OBE. Helen has been described as the natural successor to Dame Judi Dench, so her death at just 52 comes not only as a huge shock to the world of entertainment, but as a blow to the entire British theatre and film industries.
Helen, as the daughter of a diplomat, spent time in her early years in Cameroon and Tanzania, describing the latter as “my most formative country’. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, she told Lauren Laverne, “I loved Africa and it stays with you”. Her debut in a school choir proved to be life changing. Speaking of her first ever performance, she recalled “That night I will never forget walking in and standing on that stage, having been not that interested up till then… Suddenly the orchestra started up and I sang so loudly, and the whole body vibrated.”
Helen is most widely known for her roles in Peaky Blinders and three of the Harry Potter films, where she starred as Narcissa Malfoy, mother to the notorious anti-hero, Draco. She had originally been cast as Bellatrix Lestrange, a role eventually played by Helena Bonham Carter, but the role was recast due to McCrory’s pregnancy. On twitter, J.K.Rowling expressed devastation at the news of McCrory’s death, offering her deepest condolences to Damian and their children, Manon and Gulliver.
When Cherie Blair was once asked who she would play her in a film, she famously replied asking if there was anyone else but Helen McCrory. McCrory had already played her twice on the big screen, first in the 2006 film The Queen and later in 2010’s The Special Relationship.
Notable stage performances included Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea and the title role in Medea, both at the NT. Helen also played numerous leading roles at The Almeida and The Donmar Warehouse, and a legendary Lady Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Helen met her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, in 2003 when they appeared together in the play Five Gold Rings at the Almeida Theatre. The couple shared family life between Tufnell Park, north London and a home in Sudbury, Suffolk. Helen was an honorary patron of the London children’s charity Scene & Heard, helping to improve the prospects of children in Somers Town through playwriting and drama.
In 2017, Helen was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Drama and has been nominated for awards including Best Actress at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards and the Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards.
Helen died of cancer at her London home on the 16th April 2021 aged just 52, “surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family”.