Actors Helen McCrory and Damien Lewis

The incomparable Helen McCrory

By Lauren Edwards

So long Aunt Polly

I’m a very positive person. My grandmother taught me that happiness is both a skill and a decision, and you are responsible for the outcome.

Helen McCrory was sadly taken too soon this week, at the age of 52, following a private battle with cancer. She was an incredible actress. I personally loved her portrayal of the matriarchal Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders where, despite her diminutive frame, her performance could be intimidating and vulnerable at the same time. Her screen presence was magnetic, and I would long to embody her feisty confidence and the way in which she snatched the spotlight amongst her family of gangsters.  

I listen to Radio 4 all the time. I didn’t go to university, so that’s my further education.

Born in London, McCrory was the eldest of three siblings. Her father was a Glaswegian diplomat and her Mother a Welsh physiotherapist. Due to the nature of her father’s work, McCrory’s childhood was often on the move and as a result she grew up living in Cameroon, Tanzania, Norway, and France. Whilst at boarding school in Hertfordshire, she discovered a love of acting and later turned down an offer of a place at Oxford to study at the Drama Centre in London.

I love theatre because it’s just me and the audience. It’s the litmus test in acting, to be able to sustain a performance over one, two or three hours.

McCrory was passionate about the theatre and trod the boards straight from drama school, winning critical praise for her work with The Royal Shakespeare Company as well as becoming a regular thespian in various plays at the Donmar Warehouse in London. In 2003, whilst in a theatre production of Five Gold Rings at the Almeida Theatre in London, she met Homeland actor Damian Lewis. They married in 2007 and had two children.

On the big screen, McCrory characterised Cherie Blair in two films; The Queen and The Special Relationship, took on the nasty Narcissa Malfoy in the final three Harry Potter films and the steely barrister in James Bond film Skyfall. On television, she appeared in Anna Karenina, Doctor Who, Inside No. 9 and put Richard Gere through his paces in MotherFatherSon.

I feel as though my life is bathed in golden sunlight. And the really wonderful thing is that I know it.

After the pandemic hit, McCrory and Lewis spearheaded the FeedNHS campaign alongside comedian Matt Lucas, raising more than £1m to provide NHS workers with hot meals. The couple decided to set up the charity drive in April 2020 as they had lots of friends in the NHS who were working long hours and were unable to get food. They explained that one of the big problems was that all restaurants and cafés located around hospitals were forced to close due to lockdown, leaving NHS workers without a place to eat.

During an interview on Newscast, McCrory spoke of how she found the lockdown overwhelming at times. She described it as fantastical, feeling fine one minute; cleaning and cooking, but then suddenly bursting into tears from the fear and vulnerability of the situation. As a family they took to painting and creating music to pass the time.

Following the news of McCroy’s passing, her husband Damian Lewis demonstrated his devotion in a personally penned article in The Times newspaper. He described how fiercely proud she was of being an actress and receiving an OBE in recognition of her exquisite talent. How she approached her craft with rigour, honesty and intelligence that made others rise to meet her, but by never imposing herself as she loved collaboration. He explained how his wife became utterly heroic in the face of her illness; showing no fear, no bitterness or self-pity

She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.

Damian Lewis

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