In the Spotlight: Helena Bonham Carter

The following is a guest post by Elly Rewcastle. She is a film fan, aspiring music journalist and the editor of Undertone MusicZine.

Helena Bonham Carter as the villainous Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Helena Bonham Carter as the villainous Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There’s no doubt in my mind that a very large chunk of you will have heard of Helena Bonham Carter. So, when I was very kindly asked to share my insight on this blog, I jumped at the chance to write about my favourite actress.

Helena Bonham Carter has become known and praised for her roles in a number of acclaimed films that we have all come to know and love, including Fight Club, Alice in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series to name a few. The singular thing that makes her such an inspiring and admirable actress is her transition from one extreme to the other and back again.

Starting her career at a very early age, the actress – who was awarded a CBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours list – launched herself onto cinema screens as the prim and proper Lucy Honeychurch in James Ivory’s adaptation of A Room with a View. The role of Miss Honeychurch, executed to perfection by Bonham Carter, couldn’t have been further away from her future performance as the terrifyingly sadistic Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series.

Helena Bonham Carter plays up her 'corset queen' image in A Room with a View
Helena Bonham Carter plays up her ‘corset queen’ image in A Room with a View

After A Room with a View, the ‘corset queen’ portrayed many a role that piled on the period costumes, fur and elegant hats. These characters place her in completely innocent worlds where a girl could do no wrong.

“I hated what I looked like. I did look, as somebody said, like a bloated chipmunk! I had a lot of criticism, and I’ve always been more aware of the criticism than the praise,” she admitted in a frank interview with Guardian reporter Barbara Ellen back in 2008.

Then 1999 and Fincher happened.

After Fight Club, she never looked back.

Suddenly, Helena Bonham Carter trotted off to the dark side, leaving her petticoats and white silk gloves behind her – a staggering transformation from the ‘corset queen’ we had come to love. Commonly surrounded by ambient, open framing in period flicks, Bonham Carter soon found herself drowning in Tyler Durden’s dark, alluring influence.

She had travelled a long way from the innocent girl who would vow to be abstinent to off-handedly declaring that she hadn’t “been fucked like that since grade school”. Not the chosen vocabulary of an English Rose.

Helena Bonham Carter and Ed Norton in David Fincher's Fight Club
Helena Bonham Carter and Ed Norton in David Fincher’s Fight Club

If one were to watch Fight Club on one screen and A Room with a View on another, Helena Bonham Carter’s transformation would be like a cold slap to the face. She had journeyed from a world of open framing and wide shots with plenty of soft, delicate cinematography and light orchestral music. This all worked to create the perfect spring setting where mummy and daddy could have tea in the garden, whereas Fincher works like a dream to portray the dark and gloomy atmosphere of a man who can’t find his own way around the simplest corners of his mind.

The creative use of mise-en-scene in Fight Club scenes involving Bonham Carter display the shocking move from light to dark, whether it’s the torn up apartment with plastic still on the mattress, stealing meals made for the elderly or smoking so much that her lungs should be about ready to collapse.

Whether the decision to evolve her persona from Miss Perfect to Miss Downright Destroyed was conscious or not, it has certainly done wonders for her acting career. And without that career, she would not have been introduced to her current husband, father of her children and acclaimed director Tim Burton.

Even in the films created by her spouse, Helena Bonham Carter seems to avoid roles that would tie up any loose connections between the once prized English Rose and the ruthless Marla Singer that changed her. For instance, in Burton films alone, Bonham Carter portrays a drunken psychiatrist to a young Gullivan McGrath, the deranged, psychopathic Red Queen and an undead bride unwilling to let an innocent man marry his sweetheart in Corpse Bride.

They aren’t sugar-coated, happy roles and even for a predominantly young audience, her characters all tend to have worryingly dark overtones such as the desire to decapitate and kidnap that you wouldn’t find in all kid’s films.

Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Oh, but let’s not forget Mrs Lovett. Who can forget the musical purveyor of pies made from the chubby vicar next door or the judge down the street? Hidden behind a love-struck impression, Lovett really is as twisted as they come. Well, “with the price of meat what it is, when you get it, if you get it,” can you blame her?

Even in films for older audiences, the darkness doesn’t let up for Helena Bonham Carter. We don’t need details when it comes to Bellatrix Lestrange, a sadistic and childlike psychopath who loves to kill more than I thought humanly possible. Nor do we need the ins and outs of Madame Thénardier’s slimy rundown family business in the middle of 19th century France.

You will be pleased to know that it isn’t all doom and gloom when it comes to Helena Bonham Carter though.

After a rush of twisted and contorted roles that brought out the devil in our favourite English Rose, in stepped Tom Hooper and King George VI. Of course, what’s a King without his Queen? In this case, literally speechless. The King’s Speech is an inspiring tale of good old King George taking his wife’s advice and seeking therapy for his traumatising speech impediment.

Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother in Tom Hooper's awards hoover The King's Speech
Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother in Tom Hooper’s awards hoover The King’s Speech

Even Tim Burton isn’t one to leave his wife in the dark all the time, so the ever so delightful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shows Helena Bonham Carter as the warm heart of the Bucket family who, even in the darkest of times, hold on to the light.

Showing an inspirational evolution from day to night and pure to filthy, Helena Bonham Carter’s adaptability and versatility is to be admired from the very beginning. Growing up from a young age on-screen is hard enough, but being attacked with criticism left, right and centre and still managing to climb through to where you want to be is courageous and fearless.

As a huge fan I can only hope that things look up and keep getting better for Helena Bonham Carter, who never fails to amaze me.

If you think you would be interested in writing a guest post for The Popcorn Muncher, leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter at BeasleyOnFilm.

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