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Film

Helena Bonham Carter’s 10 greatest performances

@Russellisation

A staple of British cinema for many decades, Helena Bonham Carter is best known for her terrifying cackles as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise, though for different generations, this iconic actor means something a little different. Before she was dabbling in magic, she was better known for her roles in the films of Tim Burton, then, before the turn of the new millennium, her preference was majestic period dramas.

Deep down, period dramas are her real forte, with her debut in the beloved 1985 film A Room With a View, remaining one of her most compelling performances. In the gothic films of Burton, she adopts a similar (albeit darker) role, playing a queen in Alice in Wonderland and a melancholy bride in Corpse Bride, whilst in Harry Potter she dips her character in a vat of Shakespearian melodrama. 

Having enjoyed almost 40 years in the film industry, Helena Bonham Carter has had the pleasure of working with some of the finest filmmakers of all time, including David Fincher, Nick Park, Tom Hooper and James Ivory to name just a few. Marked with independent and blockbuster success, let’s take a look back at the career of the esteemed actor and celebrate her finest performances.

Helena Bonham Carter’s 10 greatest performances:

10. Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh, 1994)

There’s a reason why many forget Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel isn’t widely discussed, put simply, it just isn’t any good. Despite starring the likes of Robert De Niro, Ian Holm and John Cleese, none of their performances are particularly compelling, with Helena Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth stealing the show with the most engrossing character of the lot.

Playing the Doc’s love incestuous love interest, Bonham Carter embraces the role with open arms and helps to deliver the finest story arc of the whole film.

9. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (Nick Park, Steve Box, 2005)

Too often forgotten in the world of animation, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit by Nick Park, Steve Box and the minds of Aardman animations remains one of the finest movies of the 21st century. Voicing the character of Lady Tottington, an eccentric woman with wide ginger hair, Bonham Carter brings a unique charm to the energetic character that fits in perfectly with the finished film. 

Despite appearing for the first time in the series in this one feature film, Lady Tottington has remained a fan-favourite, with many hoping for her future return. 

8. The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)

Praised upon its release, The King’s Speech is undoubtedly a competently made film with some terrific lead performances. Still, it’s also the equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of the Academy, being unashamed Oscar bait. Whilst Colin Firth deservedly walked away with an Academy Award for his lead performance in the film, Bonham Carter also deserved to win for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth.

Also starring Geoffrey Rush and Derek Jacobi, the film is a perfectly fine drama dealing with the stammer of King George VI shortly before the start of WWII, with George’s relationship with Elizabeth making for one of the film’s most compelling dynamics.

7. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

With several twists throughout its sprawling story, the subversive values of David Fincher’s Fight Club were recently substituted in a Chinese cut of the film that saw the characters seeing justice to their rebellious crimes. Told from the perspective of Edward Norton’s Narrator, Fincher’s story is one of personal autonomy and modern masculinity, with the protagonist creating the alter-ego of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to help him navigate the tribulations of contemporary society, walking the dirtied city streets with Bonham Carter’s Marla Singer.

Though the film is somewhat dominated by Pitt and Norton, the time Marla spends on-screen is terrifically utilised by Bonham Carter, arriving with the energy of dynamite. 

6. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)

Tom Hooper followed up his 2010 Oscar success The King’s Speech with the all-singing, nearly all-dancing, musical starring a whole host of Hollywood icons including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried. Bonham Carter stars in the film alongside Sacha Baron Cohen, with the two actors forming quite the comedy duo as Master and Madame Thénardier.

Prompting laughter whenever they open their mouths, Bonham Carter’s performance was one of the most memorable of the whole film bloated with Oscar promise. 

5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)

Before her musical adventures in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, Bonham Carter took more of a starring role in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Appearing alongside Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen, Bonham Carter helped to elevate this rousing adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical. 

Baking the victims of Depp’s Sweeney Todd into pies, Bonham Carter’s character, Mrs. Lovett is played with the perfect dose of sincerity and melodrama. 

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (David Yates, 2009)

Truly, any Harry Potter movie after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could be named as the greatest of Helena Bonham Carter’s performances as the gloriously dislikeable Bellatrix Lestrange. The right-hand woman of Lord Voldermort, Lestrange is an evil, creeping goon who embraces chaos with a wide smile, making her one of the most enjoyable villains of the whole series. 

Totally embracing the role, the actor embodies the villain with chilling accuracy, almost overshadowing the performances of Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs and Helen McCrory.

3. Howards End (James Ivory, 1992)

Most of Helena Bonham Carter’s finest performances came long before her breakthrough as an international star, with her role in James Ivory’s Howards End being a crucial one in her rise to success. Set in Edwardian England, the film explores class, deception and love between two families, with Bonham Carter playing Helen Schlegel, a middle-class, intellectual who comes to blows with the conservative Wilcoxes. 

Also featuring the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, Bonham Carter shares many scenes with the latter, forming an inseparable bond that helped the film to reach such glorious heights.

2. The Wings of the Dove (Iain Softley, 1997)

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including a nod for Bonham Carter for Best Leading Actress, Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove remains one of the actor’s finest ever performances. Sensual and intelligent, she plays Kate Croy in the adaptation of Henry James’ novel that follows a woman who has been forced to choose between a privileged life with her wealthy aunt and her journalist lover. 

Appearing with Alex Jennings, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling, Bonham Carter’s performance shines above the rest, fully making the character her own with a rousing display.

1. A Room with a View (James Ivory, 1985)

Helena Bonham Carter’s first performance remains her very best, appearing in the three-time Oscar-winning movie with Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott and Judi Dench. Playing the lead role of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English girl vacationing in Florence, Italy,  her character becomes the focus of a brief romance with a young man named George before she returns home and must leave the love behind. 

Just 19 when she appeared in the film, her performance demonstrates just how versatile an actor she would become in her later career.