A roster of stars had lots of complimentary things to say about Dame Helen Mirren at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Gala, at which she received the 45th annual Chaplin Award. But the greatest evidence of her achievements was the screened collection of clips that revealed her extraordinary performance range and the outstanding career that brought her to the honor.
The audience at Alice Tully Hall on April 30 only had to look at a scene from “Hitchcock” (2012) in which, as Hitchcock’s wife Alma, she passionately explodes with her list of grievances about what she has endured from him, or, for another example, to see her in her starring role from “The Queen” (2006).
In one clip after another the range of parts she has played and her ability to inhabit whatever role with insight and perfection were amply illustrated. Mirren watched evidence of her career flashing before her from a seat in the orchestra after her un-announced entrance just before the program started was spotted and touched off a burst of applause.
The award was presented to her by Jeremy Irons, one of her distinguished co-stars in her film career that began in 1967. Irons warmly spoke of her skill, and in a personal note, said that when working with her “it is hard not to fall a little in love with her.”
One of the gala’s speakers—among them were Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vin Diesel and Julie Taymor--was director Taylor Hackford, Mirren’s husband of some 30 years, who talked about their life together and her admirable qualities, describing their marriage as “one long passion.” Looking toward Mirren seated in the audience, he added, “I love you.”
Julie Taymor spoke of how she had worked with Mirren in filming her version of “The Tempest” (2010), in which Mirren played the role of Prospero, here changed to Prospera to go with the flow of the unusual casting. There was a clip shown of Mirren standing on a hill in a huge, oversized coat, and Taymor told of how hot it was during that part of the filming and how Mirren dutifully endured wearing that heavy garment.
These days no major event in New York is likely to come off without some political comments. There was a film clip of Billy Crystal saluting Mirren. He got a laugh when he apologized for not being present because “my lawyer, Michael Cohen, told me to lay low.”
Robert De Niro was present and he provided the most political comments of the night. He stressed the meaning of the award named after Charlie Chaplin, who was an immigrant, an important point given the current attacks on immigration. But he first wisecracked to Mirren: “Congratulations for being honored with this year’s Chaplin Award. This is what happens when you have weak immigration laws.”
De Niro launched into an attack on bullying, specifically against limiting free speech. He sharply rebuked the White House Correspondents’ Association for caving in to criticism of Michelle Wolf’s acerbic comedy routine and apologizing. “Shame on them,” De Niro asserted.
I have attended almost every Film Society awards gala, starting with the first one in 1972 honoring Charlie Chaplin when he returned to America after his 20-year-exile, having been barred barred from the U.S. in 1952 during the McCarthy era. (I had visited him at his home in Vevey, Switzerland, earlier in 1972 when he granted me an interview.) In that year he was also given an honorary Oscar.
Many distinguished film people have been celebrated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in the years since the Chaplin gala, and it was a pleasure to this time see Mirren, looking beautiful in her colorful designer dress, mount the platform, receive her award from Irons, and proceed to elaborately thank the audience and the Film Society for the meaningful honor. It is richly deserved. Posted May 2, 2018.