5 Best Movies to Watch by Helen Mirren

Staff & contributors

Gosford Park inspired screenwriter Julian Fellowes to create Downton Abbey — but don’t let that association fool you, because this is no quaint, sentimental period drama but a scalding satire of 1930s England class relations (even though Maggie Smith does play a withering dowager countess here, too). Robert Altman, master orchestrator of ensembles, assembled a banquet of performers here, including Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Charles Dance as the well-to-do attendees of a hunting party on a grand estate. Working furiously to meet their every whim is the house’s domestic staff, played by such talents as Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen.

The murder comes over an hour into the film, which ought to tell you about its real focus (Altman actually called Gosford Park a “who cares whodunnit”). In place of Agatha Christie-style intrigue is brilliant characterization and storytelling. Even at 137 minutes, 30-plus characters mean time is of the essence, but Altman and his actors miraculously find a way to convey a deep sense of each person — especially those downstairs. This tangle of rich lives never gets overwhelming, though, because Gosford Park is expertly paced. It’s nothing less than a joy to sit back and experience the masterful unraveling of its many threads, each more revelatory than the last.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bates, Bob Balaban, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Claudie Blakley, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Emma Buckley, Finty Williams, Frances Low, Frank Thornton, Geraldine Somerville, Gregor Henderson-Begg, Helen Mirren, James Wilby, Jeremy Northam, Jeremy Swift, Joanna Maude, John Atterbury, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Harling, Laurence Fox, Leo Bill, Lucy Cohu, Maggie Smith, Meg Wynn Owen, Michael Gambon, Natalie Danks-Smith, Natasha Wightman, Richard E. Grant, Ron Webster, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Flind, Sophie Thompson, Stephen Fry, Teresa Churcher, Tom Hollander, Trent Ford

Director: Robert Altman

Rating: R

In 1961, Francisco de Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery, but the theft was no slick heist pulled off by international art thieves. No, the improbable culprit was (the improbably named) Kempton Bunton, a retired bus driver and aspiring playwright who pinched the painting — which the gallery had recently acquired for £140,000 of UK taxpayers’ money — as a Robin Hood-esque “attempt to pick the pockets of those who love art more than charity.” The principled Bunton (played here by Jim Broadbent) was, at the time, waging a one-man campaign to convince the government to grant pensioners and veterans free TV licenses, and the Goya theft was his way of publicizing those efforts. It was an eccentric plan, but Broadbent leans fully into his status as a UK national treasure here, making oddball Bunton a deeply sympathetic and warm figure because of (not despite) those quirks. Thanks to his performance — and the note-perfect direction of the late, great Roger Michell — a quirky footnote of history becomes a sweet, unexpectedly moving story about solidarity and the power of the underdog.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Aimee Kelly, Andrew Havill, Anna Maxwell Martin, Charlotte Spencer, Cliff Burnett, Craig Conway, Darren Charman, Dorian Lough, Fionn Whitehead, Heather Craney, Helen Mirren, Jack Bandeira, James Wilby, Jim Broadbent, John Heffernan, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Goode, Michael Hodgson, Richard McCabe, Sam Swainsbury, Sarah Beck Mather, Sian Clifford, Stephen Rashbrook, Val McLane, Will Graham

Director: Roger Michell

Rating: R

Is an innocent child’s life worth millions of other civilian casualties? In a modern-day drone warfare led by Colonel Katherine Powell, played by the very versatile Helen Mirren, she is conflicted to order the target of the Somali terrorist organization when she spots Alia, a young girl who just happens to be selling bread within the premises of the Kill Zone. Her icy exterior, however, is a far cry from Lieutenant General Frank Benson’s profound sympathy, the portrayal of the late Alan Rickman in his last onscreen role being one of his most remarkable ones to date. Eye in the Sky is a thriller that will have you questioning your morals while gripping your seats in what appears to be a battle of the best choice and the only one. Do the ends always justify the means?

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Aaron Paul, Aisha Takow, Alan Rickman, Armaan Haggio, Arman Haggio, Babou Ceesay, Barkhad Abdi, Carl Beukes, Daniel Fox, Ebby Weyime, Francis Chouler, Gavin Hood, Graham Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, James Alexander, Jeremy Northam, John Heffernan, Kate Liquorish, Kenneth Fok, Kim Engelbrecht, Kim Suzanne Engelbrecht, Laila Robins, Lemogang Tsipa, Lex King, Michael OKeefe, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox, Richard McCabe, Roberto Meyer, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Vusi Kunene, Warren Masemola, Zak Rowlands

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

, 2023

Golda Meir was Israel's only female Prime Minister and that's already reason enough a biopic celebrating her historical importance would be made. Oscar-winning Israeli director Guy Nattiv rose to the task and Meir's own grandson requested British actress Helen Mirren to play the role of his grandmother (a decision that was not left undisputed). However, Miren is a virtuoso of stoic, physically confined acting and delivers a strong performance as the elderly Golda in the wake of a militarized attack on Israel coming from Egypt and Syria. Instead of being caught in the web of global politics between the Arab world, Russia, and the United States, she navigates the terrain with sustained empathy, although not without failings. The film itself describes Golda as a hero outside of Israel and controversial in her own land, and it does well enough in embodying that very same controversy.

 

 

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller, War

Actor: Ben Caplan, Camille Cottin, Daniel Ben Zenou, Dominic Mafham, Dvir Benedek, Ed Stoppard, Ellie Piercy, Emma Davies, Helen Mirren, Henry Goodman, Jaime Ray Newman, Liev Schreiber, Lior Ashkenazi, Mark Fleischmann, Ohad Knoller, Rami Heuberger, Rotem Keinan, Zed Josef

Director: Guy Nattiv

Rating: PG-13