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Bonham Carter, Helena (1966-)


Main image of Bonham Carter, Helena (1966-)

Because she appeared mostly in period films, critics began to complain of Helena Bonham Carter's limited range. It was as if playing, say, the tragic young queen in Lady Jane (d. Trevor Nunn, 1985, her debut), passionate Helena Schlegel in Howards End (d. James Ivory, 1992) and driven, resourceful Kate Croy in The Wings of the Dove (UK/US, d. Iain Softley, 1997) called on the same emotional and technical resources.

Given her impeccable credentials - she is the great-granddaughter of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (later Lord Oxford and Asquith) and grandniece of director Anthony Asquith, there may have been inverted snobbery in the increasingly predictable commentaries that greeted such roles, especially for her work in four Merchant Ivory productions, based on E.M. Forster's novels. It was her ardent Lucy Honeychurch in their Room with a View (d. James Ivory, 1985) that brought her to real notice, and led her to leave Cambridge.

The image is, however, not all. Her personal life may suggest privilege but has been marked by such misfortunes as her father's paralysis; and her film roles have been more diverse than simplistic appraisal might suggest.

She brought real erotic need to her Oscar-nominated performance in The Wings of the Dove; was a touching Ophelia in Zeffirelli's Hamlet (UK/US, 1990); imbued Olivia's parody of love in Twelfth Night (UK/US, d. Trevor Nunn, 1996) with delicate comedy; played Woody Allen's wife in Mighty Aphrodite (US, d. Woody Allen, 1995); and, grungified, finally put paid to the corseted, delicate pre-Raphaelite beauty tag in Fight Club (US, d. David Fincher, 1999), as, in her words, an "obsessive support-group junkie".

She lived with Kenneth Branagh from 1994-99, but the films she made with him - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (US/Japan, d. Branagh, 1994) and The Theory of Flight (d. Paul Greengrass, 1998) - failed commercially.

On the brink of international fame, she has been a major British star since the mid-1980s. Her cousin is TV actor Crispin Bonham Carter, who has had small roles in Howards End (1992) and Bridget Jones's Diary (UK/France/US, d. Sharon Maguire, 2001) and played Bingley in TV's Pride and Prejudice (BBC, 1995).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Merchant-Ivory Forster adaptation, about a gay affair in Cambridge

Thumbnail image of Room with a View, A (1985)Room with a View, A (1985)

Much-loved Merchant Ivory adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel

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