Helen McCrory's journey from playing a protective mother in 'Harry Potter' to gang matriarch in 'Peaky Blinders' has been phenomenal
The British actress has played a number of unconventional roles -- each getting more ambitious than the previous one.
There are only a few actresses who have been able to portray a mother who commits heinous crimes while maintaining her image as the savior matriarch. Going by this record then, British actress Helen McCrory has time and again excelled in roles that proved a mother is not only committed towards the well-being of her children but can be selfish enough to disregard the affairs of the world solely for the benefit of motherhood. Her characters might not be diverse but the confined roles that she plays have been executed until the last morsel has been squeezed out of those characters.
At the moment, McCrory is best known for her role as the Shelby matriarch, Polly Grey, a gypsy woman who is able to talk to spirits but at the same time commits a murder in the cleanest possible way. Polly Grey is one of the leading women on BBC One's 'Peaky Blinders' but unlike her fellow characters, Polly holds the upper hand when it comes to the Shelby family business. As the company's treasurer, Polly decides where the money goes and what happens with it, and let's keep in mind this is a woman who lives in the early 1910s, a time when due to World War I men were out in the battlefield and women for the first time were taking control over business.
While Polly's character is a groundbreaking one in an era when female characters are gradually emerging out of their typecasted roles, let's just say this isn't the first time McCrory is playing an unconventional character. In 2003 she portrayed Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine in the BBC series, 'Charles II: The Power and the Passion'. Barbara Villiers, who was also the first Duchess of Cleveland, was notorious for her affair with Charles II after he was reinstated upon his throne during the early years of the 17th century. She is the most famous among all of the king's mistresses, and as the story goes, she bore five of his children and was referred to as "The Uncrowned Queen".
McCrory's portrayal of the extravagance of Barbara was not only sensitive but the Duchess' immense influence upon both the king and the court were perfectly executed with the actress' heavy delivery of dialogues. This was the role which established her as an actress who not only observed the character but imbibed it as well. We got an excellent instance of it when she portrayed a compelling Rebecca West in a production of Henrik Ibsen's 'Rosmersholm' at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 2008. Her portrayal of the free-minded 19th-century woman who was at once taken aback by a man's controlled ethics saw her being considered for today's generation's most well-known film franchise, 'Harry Potter'.
Although she had to give up the role of Bellatrix Lestrange in 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' during her pregnancy, the character was played by an equally convincing actress Helena Bonham Carter. However, McCrory soon appeared in 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' which released in July 2009 as Draco's mum and Bellatrix's sister, Narcissa Malfoy. Yet the role had disappointingly less screen time.
McCrory had warned during an interview, "Don't reach down for your popcorn, because by the time you do, I could be off the screen...You have people like Tim, that most producers are killing themselves to work with...That sort of attention to detail, because, you know, they probably last did Hamlet. So David is surrounded by actors going, 'Right, I can give you this, or I can give you that, or I can give you . . .' and he's like, 'Please, please, just say your one line and f*** off.'"
McCrory might not have had much to say as Malfoy's petrified mother but what caught the attention of viewers was perhaps the naked fear that the actress had shown underneath the white stained wig.
While the fear factor continues to keep her company in her new role, McCrory is now playing perhaps one of her most complicated roles on the small screen, Polly Grey, who makes others fear her. Polly is a gypsy woman who has had a bad past and somehow her life refuses to let her walk past that phase. Yet being a woman of strong will, Polly time and again manages to give her fate a little jerk until she gets what she wants. McCrory will be returning in Season 5 of 'Peaky Blinders' which is set to release this Spring, and as we can hope, Polly will have her own share of violence and infidelity in the upcoming season.