As the Worlds of Stage and Screen Mourn the Effervescent Star, Our Chief Theatre Critic Looks Back on a Career – and Life – That Positively Blazed
by Nick Curtis | Evening Standard | April 18, 2021
“She had it all.” This is how the National Theatre’s artistic director Rufus Norris sums up Helen McCrory, whose crushingly sad death from cancer at 52 has robbed London of a woman who dazzled, onstage and off.
Although she found wide fame as Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders and as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter film franchise – and as half of London’s most glamorous theatre power couple, with her husband Damian Lewis – she was, first and foremost, one of the greatest stage actresses of the age. “Doing theatre is what made my heart sing,” McCrory said, according to Lewis’s own moving tribute this weekend.
Though blessed with superb comic poise, she excelled particularly in tragic roles: her National Theatre appearances alone embraced a poignant Nina in The Seagull (1994), a searing Medea (2014) and a heartbreaking Hester Collyer in Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea (2016), among others, making use of what Sam Mendes this weekend called her “explosive energy”.
Offstage she was wickedly witty, devoted to her friends and to her children, Manon and Gulliver. Her palpable zest for life makes her early death seem all the more unjust. As Lewis heartbreakingly wrote: “I’ve never known anyone able to enjoy life as much.”