“If you’re a queen, you’re powerless, so I’d probably demote myself and go shopping.”
Wildly successful and critically acclaimed British actor Helena Bonham Carter is celebrated for her incredible perfectionism, talent and versatility. While Potterheads will absolutely despise yet be in awe of her incredibly psychotic performance as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange with her blood-curdling cackle, foul mouth and affinity for torturing Muggles, Carter has too many feathers to add to her hat. Clad in an all-black ensemble with her messy curly hair, twirling her wand in her fingers, Carter had an interesting insight into her character: “She looks like a warrior. I mean, Bellatrix does mean warrior. And she’s also a bit of a fatale. She’s the right hand of Voldemort, and the only woman death eater.”
Born to an aristocratic, blue-blooded family, Helena Bonham Carter experienced her interest in acting after winning second place in a national poetry competition and subsequently acting in a commercial. She received her first TV role in 1983 before enacting in James Ivory’s film A Room With a View in 1985. Her early appearances in aristocratic dramas where she was clad in eclectic clothing as Shakesperian angels, earned her the name of “English rose” and “corset queen”, something that she went on to despise.
Carter is known for her struggle to break out of the image she has been bestowed with by the film industry and hates being typecast as “a prim Edwardian”. Confident, fiercely independent and free-spirited, Carter had a knack for shocking people. “I have to struggle to change people’s perceptions of me,” she once said. “I grew very frustrated with the perception that I’m this shy, retiring, inhibited aristocratic creature when I’m absolutely not like that at all. I think I’m much more outgoing and exuberant than my image,” she added. Arguing that she drinks booze, smokes, gets “hooked on caffeine”, swears, belches and “even raise [my] voice when provoked” and is not “physically repressed”. Carter, incredibly versatile, with several accolades to her name, is known and celebrated for maintaining her dark, quirky aesthetic in her characters; from playing demure characters, she went on to star in wildly independent and often psychotic roles.
She is also often celebrated for her unconventional and idiosyncratic fashion sense where Vivienne Westwood and Marie Antoinette are her self-proclaimed inspiration. Carter is incredibly perceptive and critical of her own performances. She does not shy away from making constructively critical remarks, most notably about her performance in Tom hopper’s 2012 musical Les Miserables. She felt it was quite a “daunting” task and was displeased with her performance. She went on to say that she would never star in a live musical and would only do “another singing (film) role if someone else was foolish enough to employ me, but I wouldn’t do a stage musical. I don’t have a strong enough voice. Maybe for one night, but with singing, it’s like any muscle, it doesn’t last.” Despite what she has to say about herself, we can all unanimously agree that the vivacity and grandeur she manages to bring in her roles irrespective of their screen-time is commendable and phenomenal.
While Netflix does have a selection of films starring Helena Bonham Carter, it is a pity to see how the streaming platform does not star some of her films like A Room With a View, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The King’s Speech and more as they all represent her acting style and the wonderful legacy she has shall be leaving behind due to her glorious career. On her 55th birthday, let us take a look at some of her best films and series that are streaming on Netflix.
Best Helena Bonham Carter films and series on Netflix:
6. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Brad Silberling, 2004)
The Baudelaire siblings lose their parents to a freak house fire and are left orphaned. Their distant relative Count Olaf is bestowed with the duty of looking after them. However, this sinister and cruel man only cares for the children’s inheritance that will be bequeathed by the eldest Baudelaire child, the smart and witty Violet. The children escape his evil clutches by seeking help from their eccentric Uncle Monty and finally with their manic, phobic Aunt Josephine, yet Count Olaf is relentless in his pursuit of the young children.
Although Carter has an uncredited appearance as Beatrice Baudelaire, the film is riotous and funny. The children are pursued by Jim Carrey whose scheming nature is well-balanced by his masterful disguises and villainy; however, one misses his usual amusing self. Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Jude Law, Catherine O’Hara and more appear in the film and add to the chaotic madness that ensues when the greedy Count Olaf wants to take away what belongs to the children.
“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”
5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005)
Charlie Bucket and his family live in abject poverty when the young boy wins one of the five golden tickets to tour the chocolate factory which belongs to the mysterious and eccentric Willy Wonka. Along with his grandpa, Charlie visits the factory where he meets four other children who embody a certain flaw, from greed to pride, gluttony to rage. As each person gets eliminated from the group, Charlie encounters the strange Oompa-Loompas and gets an insight into Mr Wonka’s troubled childhood.
2005 was a busy year for Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter as well as Tim Burton who were shooting Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory subsequently. Although Carter has a somewhat small role in the film as Charlie’s mother, Mrs Bucket is struggling to keep herself together while managing two sets of ailing parents and their frail selves while supporting her husband and her son in their impoverished household. The film is a perfect escape into the world of fantasy. It gives a moral lesson about greed, gluttony and more while being a sweet escape from the everyday drudgery of life, a warm and delicious imaginative ride into the enchanting factory where dreams are made of chocolates, candies and ganache.
“Oh well, nothing goes better with cabbage than cabbage.”
4. Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, Mike Johnson, 2005)
Victor Van Dort belongs to the nouveau riche fish merchant family and is set to marry Victoria Everglot who belongs to an impoverished aristocratic family as part of a mutually beneficial agreement. They fall in love but Victor fumbles with his vows before unwittingly practising the vows with a tree in the forest and placing his wedding ring on the root. The root turns out to be the finger of a revenant woman named Emily who rises from the dead as Victor’s wife. An epic love triangle begins where Victor is bound to Emily and Victoria is set to marry a presumably affluent Lord Barkis Bittern, much to her chagrin.
With a talented ensemble comprising Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson and more, Burton and Johnson’s fun, macabre musical rooted in romance and chaos is a brilliant sight to behold. This was Carter’s debut in voice-acting in a theatrical film and she did a brilliant job as the revenant Emily who is the titular bride. Her character adds an emotional twist to the visually pleasing and whimsical film. Carter expressed her disappointment at not being able to show off her character more. “I was sad that Corpse Bride was so short. I would’ve liked to have had her around for way longer. She doesn’t actually have that many scenes”.
“I’ve spent so long in the darkness, I’d almost forgotten how beautiful the moonlight is.”
3. Howard’s End (James Ivory, 1992)
The film, set in the early twentieth century, sees a classic collision of the social classes among the Victorian aristocratic capitalist Wilcoxes, the intellectual bourgeois Schlegels who believe in philanthropy and humanism as well as the working-class in form of the Basts. The Schlegel sisters want to help the Basts by violently protesting against the Wilcox sneers and prejudices yet find themselves failing to achieve what they want as women in an oppressive period where patriarchy reigns supreme.
Helena Bonham Carter received an Oscar nomination for her role as Helen Schlegel in this film. Amidst a talented cast comprising Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Emma Thompson among others, Carter delivers an incredible performance as the kind yet anguished Helen. The film has beautiful sets that are reminiscent of the grandeur of Edwardian England. The story is fascinating and it is an emotional journey that the viewers have to embark on as the characters keep evolving till they reach the climactic scene.
“We’re not off, we’re just over-expressive.”
2. Enola Holmes (Harry Bradbeer, 2020)
Based on Nancy Springer’s series, the film revolves around the smart and spirited Enola Holmes who is the sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. Enola’s mother raises her to be a well-rounded woman, quick-witted woman, under whose tutelage Enola develops an innate talent in chess and jujutsu along with a desire for independence. When Enola’s mother suddenly disappears, she leaves behind a trail of clues. While trying to find her, Enola must skillfully evade her protective brothers, the perceptive Sherlock and the haughty Mycroft. While on the run, Enola tries to make sense of her mother’s whereabouts when she encounters Viscount Tewkesburt who is also on the run like Enola.
Although the film could have done better with a more gripping plot, as the debut film of a franchise, it is refreshing to see Millie Bobby Brown in a different avatar than her last venture as Eleven with psychokinetic abilities. The games are afoot as Enola tries to bring her mother’s lessons to the forefront. Helena Bonham Carter plays Enola’s mother, the eccentric and unconventional Eudoria Holmes who influences Enola to follow her heart. Carter, despite her small screentime, was in awe of the depth of her character and said that it was the “smallest, greatest part I’ve been offered”.
“There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours or the path others choose for you.”
1. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012)
Based on Victor Hugo’s eponymous novel, the musical film revolves around the character development of Jean Valjean who spends 19 years as a prisoner. After his release, he breaks parole to become a successful factory owner and mayor, when his old nemesis Javert the prison guard takes notice of him and vows revenge. Valjean is also the guardian of Fantine’s illegitimate daughter, Cosette, and helps her unite with her lover Marius in the backdrop of the student rebellions; however, Javert’s relentless pursuit and vengeance thwart and disrupt their peace and happiness.
Mesmerising and compelling and heartwrenching, the film’s success lies rooted in the bravura of the incredible ensemble cast who deliver outstanding and moving performances. Carter starred along with Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenadiers who were fraudulent innkeepers. Although she received appreciation for her performance, Carter was not very happy with the way her voice sounded and expected to sound way better. To fit into her role of the pickpocketer Madame Thenardier, Carter had undergone intensive vocal training. “I had lots of vocal training for Les Miserables, but I didn’t improve as much as I thought I would. I watched it and thought… I was going to be so much better, I thought my voice was going to be so much bigger,” she said.
“Master of the house isn’t worth my spit. Comforter, philosopher, and lifelong shit.”
The Crown (Stephen Daldry, 2016-)
Based on Peter Morgan’s award-winning play The Audience, The Crown is a lavish Netflix original that provides an insight into the coveted life of Queen Elizabeth II from the 1940s when she first ascended the throne at the age of 25 following the demise of her father King George VI to the modern times. The series takes a closer look into the Queen’s court, political and romantic pursuits as well as the surrounding events that led to major developments in the late 20th century. It is considered one of the best period pieces Netflix has ever produced and deserves the high praise and acclaim it has been showered with since its inception.
The beauty and grandiose of the series is enhanced by the exquisitely beautiful aesthetics, stellar performances as well as compelling narratives. The intimate look into the Queen’s life humanises her; the Hans Zimmer theme adds a beautiful tenderness and poignancy to the series. Carter, who made her appearance in the third season as Princess Margaret, played her part of Elizabeth’s younger sister with effortless ease, bringing in her turmoil and anguish with rocky affairs well, never shying away from saying whatever she wants to say. Carter felt that her character, who probably never got over her father’s death had depression.
“My children are not royal; they just happen to have the Queen for their aunt.”