On this day in 2003, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II publishes the list of those she has chosen to appoint as Officers of the Order of the British Empire as part of the traditional Queen’s Birthday Honours. Included on the list were (among others) the soccer star David Beckham, the musician Sting, the actor Roger Moore of James Bond fame and the actress Helen Mirren. An acclaimed veteran of the London stage, Mirren had earned numerous awards for her starring role in the British television series Prime Suspect and would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress several years later for her portrayal of none other than Elizabeth II, in Stephen Frears’ film The Queen (2006).
Born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff in 1945, Mirren began her acting career with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the latter half of the 1960s. From her very first film appearance (playing the young muse to a middle-aged artist in 1969’s Age of Consent), Mirren displayed the overtly sensual screen persona that would become her trademark. Other early movies included O Lucky Man! (1973); the sexually explicit, critically derided Caligula (1979), which was co-produced by Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione Jr. and featured a full roster of preeminent British actors; Excalibur (1981) and the science-fiction film 2010 (1984). Mirren met her future husband, Taylor Hackford, when he directed her in 1985’s White Nights; after a relationship of 11 years, they married in 1997.
Mirren’s stage career flourished throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress for 1995’s A Month in the Country on Broadway. She also continued acting in films, earning notice for her performances in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) and The Madness of King George (1994). It was on television where Mirren made the biggest impact, however, playing the no-nonsense police detective Jane Tennison on Prime Suspect for a total of seven seasons from 1991 to 2006. She won numerous honors for the role, including Emmy and BAFTA awards.
Among the actresses of her generation, Mirren had become known for her comfort with nudity. To commemorate her 50th birthday, she posed naked on the cover of Britain’s Radio World. She continued to reveal herself on-screen as well, in the comedy Calendar Girls and the TV drama The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (both 2003). In some of her most acclaimed later film roles, however, Mirren played characters who were decidedly more inhibited, notably in 2001’s Gosford Park (for which she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) and 2006’s The Queen. The latter film garnered Mirren the best reviews of her career, and won her the Oscar for Best Actress. She earned an Emmy Award that same year for her portrayal of another British queen in the HBO miniseries Elizabeth I.
The famously liberal Mirren had previously rejected a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) distinction in 1996, when the conservative Tory Party had been in power. After accepting her DBE (Dame of the British Empire) honor in 2003, Mirren told the press: “The whole concept of aristocracy I loathe. I gave myself a week to think about whether or not to accept the honour. I talked to people in my industry and they were unanimous, they said you’ve got to do it. It was surprising to me, slightly, because I thought of myself as the naughty one.”