This analysis will concentrate on two specific points in Helen Mirren's career. First, her arrival on the scene at the height of the sexual revolution and how sexuality became a major part of her star image, and second, her recent renaissance as a sexual object near the end of her career. It is thus only partly ironic that Helen Mirren was recently voted the world's sexiest OAP; she is surely the oldest woman to pose naked on the front of the normally staid Radio Times. From youthful, bohemian sexuality in her early films and theatre roles onto a more mature, developed and confident seductiveness in films such as The Long Good Friday, Mirren has succeeded in being "sexual" without seeming to lose her identity as an autonomous female.
Helen Mirren came to prominence at the height of the sexual revolution in the mid 1960's She auditioned for the National Youth Theatre at the eight of eighteen (in 1963) and at the age of twenty was already starring at the Old Vic Theatre. Her early roles reflected a sexuality that was perhaps beyond what most might expect of a young woman of her age. Thus she played Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra in 1965 for the National Youth Theatre and then Cressida in Trolius and Cressida for the Royal Shakespeare Company, followed by Lady Macbeth for the same company in a famous production directed by Trevor Nunn.
Two early film roles exemplified the mixture of a fire-like and yet vulnerable sexuality. The left still below is from Age of Consent (1969), while the right one is from O Lucky Man, along side Malcolm McDowell :
While it is perhaps very difficult to extrapolate from a film still to the actual experience of watching a film, and thus considering the screen presence which makes a "star", these stills hint at the fact that Mirren has never been a traditional "sex object" along the lines of Marilyn Monroe, Bridget Bardot or Sophia Loren. She looks, to be frank, simply too intelligent to be pigeon-holed into such a one-dimensional identity. A popular entertainment website describes her as "perhaps the ultimate thinking man's sex symbol. . . " (starpulse, 2007). On its surface this might appear to be a rather superficial interpretation of the actress, but on closer inspection it brings us to the heart of Mirren's unique star quality. Even when she was gaining a reputation as a something of a sex-pot through regularly removing her clothes both on stage and in films during the 1970's, it seems clear that Mirren was careful never to be associated merely with eroticism and thus to be exposed in a gratuitous manner for the voyeuristic pleasure of the audience.
The sexuality in her films is nearly always an integral part of the plot rather than merely a chance for the director to show off Mirren's rather obvious sex-appeal. For example, in The Long Good Friday she turns from the classic, almost clichd figure of the subservient gangster wife into a fearless avenger who uses sexual encounters as a source of revenge. Mirren is the controlling subject of her sex scenes rather than the controlled object. She is thus the opposite of the kind of