Helen McCrory: A Tribute To Peaky Blinders Actress
Multifaceted actress Helen McCrory sadly passed away from cancer aged 52. Best known for her most recent role as Aunt Polly Gray in the BBC drama Peaky Blinders, McCrory will be remembered for her full and illustrious acting career as well as her charity work.
Helen Elizabeth McCrory OBE (17 August 1968 – 16 April 2021) was an English actress. She studied at the Drama Centre London, before making her stage debut in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1990. Several Shakespeare plays followed, as did awards in recognition of her acting: McCrory won third prize at the Ian Charleson Awards in 1993, was nominated for a London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress for her performance in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya and was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2006 playing Rosalind in As You Like It.
Helen McCrory worked extensively on stage throughout her career, but also performed in diverse roles across film and television, both as beloved and villainous characters. McCrory notably played Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Rosanna Calvierri in Doctor Who – The Vampires of Venice. McCrory starred in roles as varied as former PM wife Cherie Blair in The Queen, the Home Secretary in the James Bond film Skyfall, and Queen Elizabeth I in Bill.
Helen McCrory played the much-loved Shelby family matriarch Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders from the show’s launch in 2013. It is unclear whether McCrory will feature in the final season 6 which has been in production and filming since March 2021 – sadly the schedule was delayed due to the pandemic, which was due to go ahead in 2020.
Personal life and charity work
Helen met her actor husband Damian Lewis in 2003 while performing in Five Gold Rings together at London’s Almeida Theatre. The pair had a daughter and son, and were married in 2007.
Helen was an honorary patron of London children’s charity Scene & Heard and has made headlines this last year for setting up the charity FeedNHS at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the BBC in April 2020, she explained:
“We’ve got lots of friends in the NHS and when this outbreak happened, they said one of the big problems they had was all the cafes and restaurants around the hospitals were closing. And the hours they were doing were longer and longer, and they weren’t able to get food. We decided we wanted to try and get food to these people working such long hours and weren’t able to.”
Remarkably, Helen and Damian also spoke to Good Morning Britain in a now-moving appearance just weeks before McCrory passed away, in order to highlight the Prince’s Trust charity work they were part of which helps young people.
Wow. Helen McCrory on TV discussing her important charity work for the Prince’s Trust just six weeks before her death from cancer – and very few people had any idea what she was clearly going through. An incredible person. pic.twitter.com/5yhc6jbzol
— Dan Wootton (@danwootton) April 16, 2021
Husband Damian has led in the many touching tributes that have flooded in. Writing a 1,000 word op-ed in The Sunday Times, he wrote:
“Already I miss her. She has shone more brightly in the last months than you would imagine even the brightest star could shine. In life, too, we had to rise to meet her. But her greatest and most exquisite act of bravery and generosity has been to ‘normalise’ her death.
She’s shown no fear, no bitterness, no self-pity, only armed us with the courage to go on and insisted that no one be sad, because she is happy. I’m staggered by her. She’s been a meteor in our life.”
Tributes from peers, colleagues, friends and fans alike have been shared on Twitter in particular, with the BBC and Peaky Blinders co-stars posting their condolences:
— Peaky Blinders (@ThePeakyBlinder) April 16, 2021
Cillian Murphy who plays McCrory’s on-screen nephew Tommy Shelby on the show released a statement:
“I am broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend. Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being. She was also a gifted actor – fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played.
It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years. I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family.”
Fellow BBC actor Reece Shearsmith shared:
Impossible to process the mighty Helen McCrory has passed. I worked with Helen on stage and of course we were lucky enough to get her in "Inside No 9". She was always immaculate and brilliant. An unfathomable loss. RIP . pic.twitter.com/fbau6kywzW
— reece shearsmith (@ReeceShearsmith) April 16, 2021
While actor, comedian and FeedNHS charity collaborator Matt Lucas tweeted:
Helen McCrory will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity. She and Damian were the motor driving FeedNHS, working tirelessly during the pandemic to raise millions for others. What a tremendous loss.
— Matt Lucas (@RealMattLucas) April 16, 2021
Helen McCrory accomplished a great deal in her life and career, and will be remembered fondly.
Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:
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