She came out of the water dripping and sent certain feelings whizzing through my teenage self. The venue was the Somerset Drive-in so therefore there would have been seagulls flying across the screen to add to the authenticity – but this lad’s mind was not on those particular birds. I have no idea whose car I was in and whether my girl friend of the time was beside me. I remember nothing else of that movie – but that scene is still etched on my mind to this day.
No, it wasn’t Ursula Andress in her white bikini – that was way back in ’62. This was half a decade later and by 1969 what could be shown up on that big amount of white space had changed markedly, but a scene featuring bare breasts was still novel and the beautiful girl emerging from the sea wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. I’d never heard of the actress concerned, but the male lead, playing an artist, was well-known, being British actor James Mason. His muse and model, Cora Ryan, was played by Helen Mirren in her first screen role. The memorable scene in question took place on a beach on Queensland’s Dunk Island – it was my first encounter with the Dame.
In the nineties, close to thirty years on, she became a regular feature of my Friday nights. Mirren was no longer that nubile lass from ‘Age of Consent’, but as DCI Jane Tennison, in the police procedural ‘Prime Suspect’, she was in the prime of womanhood and still had that something about her that stirred the blood – only this time on the small screen. She was riveting. This night on Auntie was devoted to crime and one hundred percent British. From 1991 till 2006 ‘Prime Suspect’ was one of the best of its kind as we followed our feisty DCI, catching the villains and coping with being a female in a man’s world with a private life that was, of course, flawed.
Move a couple of decades on again and Mirren, along with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, are the grand dames of UK female thespians and still going strong. She remains luminous, still taking on starring roles in such box-office friendly fare as ‘Calendar Girls’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘A Hundred Foot Journey’. There are more creases these days, but she is still as stunning up there as she was breathtaking back at the end of the sixties.
And her latest, ‘Woman in Gold’, is doing very nicely too, thank you. Based on a true story, it’s another clichéd tale of the underdog overcoming great adversity to battle the power-brokers of our world and coming up roses. Our Dame, complete with a semi-authentic sounding German accent, appears as Maria Altman, trying to retrieve a family portrait from the clutches of the Belvedere, the great art gallery of Vienna. You see, it was stolen back in the war years from her kin by those dastardly Nazis. To assist in carrying out the task she hires a lawyer (a mostly muted Ryan Reynolds), still very wet behinds the ears, on the grounds he is the son of a family friend and grandson of somebody famous. The problem is the family portrait was painted by the one and only Gustav Klimt. His rendering of Adele Bloch-Bauer only bows down to ‘The Kiss’ as his signature work and hence is regarded as an Austrian national treasure. We all know how this will pan out and it duly does so. But the film maintains interest along its narrative journey and is not without its delights – why there’s even a Gerald Ford moment for us Aussies. That chameleon from small screen series ‘Orphan Black’, Tatiana Maslany, is gorgeous as the young Maria and would seem odds on for more action on the big playing field. She’s on the upward trajectory whilst Katie Holmes, in a nothing role as the lawyer’s wife, would seem headed in the opposite direction. Charles Dance also adds his gravitas, but it is the Dame front and centre and she carries it off well, as one would expect.
From Pacific mermaid to unassailably still at the top of her game in our current decade, hopefully there’s no end in sight for this ageless marvel. Long may she continue to delight film goers – and me.
Official Trailer ‘Woman of Gold’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geJeX6iIlO0