The wonder for me about Helen McCrory – whose passing, at 52, is so cruel, so sad, such a profound and premature loss to the acting profession – is how relatively long it took for people to cotton on to her magnificence.
I was lucky enough to visit the Tricycle, north London one winter evening in 1995 and see her star as Lady M in Macbeth. In fact, of course, she wasn’t then the “draw” – here was, surprisingly enough, a Shakespeare production at a major off-West End venue renowned for its contemporary political work. It was an oddity from artistic director Nicolas Kent. Yet within the space of a couple of hours, I emerged with her name on my lips, and the surest conviction that I had set eyes on one of the greats.
Here was an actress who was so intense, so spellbinding, so caught up in every moment of every scene she was in that it was as though she carried a lifetime’s acting experience within her: but she was just in her mid-20s. Her flintiness illuminated every line it sparked off. Rapt, I ended my review of that dark, sinister torch-lit night, referencing the sleepwalking scene, saying that “it is the sight of McCrory alone, scurrying restlessly round in the dark and hugging a single flame, that burns a lasting image of unstoppable evil onto your retina.”