In Spotlight: Helen McCrory’s movies and TV shows - her top roles in a glittering career, from Peaky Blinders to Harry Potter

We take a look through the late actress Helen McCrory’s film and TV roles, including her long-running appearance in Peaky Blinders as matriarch Aunt Polly.

Published: 22 February 2022 - 4.36pm
From L-R: Warner Bros / BBC / Pathe Helen McCrory's top movie and TV roles

Helen McCrory was one of the finest actors of her generation, who leaves behind a glittering film, television and theatre legacy.

Her husband, fellow actor Damian Lewis, paid tribute to his "beautiful and mighty" wife in April 2021 as he announced that she had died from breast cancer, aged 52.

She won plaudits for her portrayal of powerful female characters, with acclaimed roles in Peaky Blinders, Harry Potter and The Queen, as well as lead roles at the National Theatre.

Here, we pay tribute to actress Helen McCrory, taking a look back at some of her most iconic movie and TV roles.

Peaky Blinders - Aunt Polly Gray

Helen McCrory was perhaps best known for playing Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby family, in all five series of BBC drama Peaky Blinders since its 2013 inception.

Speaking about her role as Aunt Polly Gray before the show's second season in 2014, McCrory said that Polly is the brains behind the family - although that brought friction with Tommy (Cillian Murphy) and the rest of the Shelby clan. 

"I think the role of the women in Peaky Blinders, because they come from a working class family, are very strong,” she told the BBC.

“You’re looking at a new generation of women that were no longer happy to stay at home with a clothes mangle and were coming out."

Tragically, McCrory will not feature in Peaky Blinders' sixth season as she was too ill to film Aunt Polly's scenes. McCrory's Peaky Blinders co-star Cillian Murphy (who plays her nephew, Tommy Shelby) said he hopes the series will be a “tribute” to her.

He told Variety: “I think the whole series is really in tribute to her and to honour her. Her presence and her character’s presence are very much still felt in the series, and it is very much part of Tommy’s journey in the season."

Watch Peaky Blinders Series 6 on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from Sunday 27 February.

Peaky Blinders Series 1-5 are on BBC iPlayer and Netflix.

His Dark Materials - Stelmaria

Helen McCrory His Dark Materials BBC / HBO

In 2019, McCrory provided the voice of Stelmaria, Lord Asriel's snow leopard daemon, in the BBC/HBO series, His Dark Materials.

Following the news of her passing, the show's Twitter account called her "uniquely talented" and “one of the finest actors of our generation”.

Watch His Dark Materials Series 1-2 on BBC iPlayer.

MotherFatherSon - Kathryn Villiers

That same year, the actress played the role of Kathryn Villiers in the TV drama MotherFatherSon, alongside Richard Gere in his first major TV role. McCrory’s character was the ex-wife of Gere’s character, powerful media mogul Max Finch.

McCrory said that she "gatecrashed" the audition for the show because she was so desperate to work on the project, penned by Tom Rob Smith, who also wrote the acclaimed TV series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

"We gatecrashed the auditions basically," she told the Irish News. "I was being offered various things during this process – I even declined a lead role in another series purely on the chance of getting this, because Tom Rob Smith’s writing is brilliant and it is one of the most original scripts I’ve ever read."

Watch MotherFatherSon on BBC iPlayer.

Skyfall - MP Clair Dowar

Helen McCrory Skyfall MGM

McCrory portrayed Clair Dowar MP, the UK's Home Secretary, in the 2012 James Bond film, Skyfall.

The film's producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who oversee the Bond franchise, called her "extraordinarily talented and gracious" in a tribute on the film's official Twitter page.

Skyfall is available to buy on Amazon Prime Video.

Harry Potter films - Narcissa Malfoy

Helen McCrory Harry Potter Warner Bros

One of McCrory’s most famous roles is that of Narcissa Malfoy, wife of Lucius and mother to Draco, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2.

Writing on Twitter at the time of McCrory's death, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling called McCrory an "extraordinary actress" and a "wonderful woman who's left us far too soon".

Watch all the Harry Potter films on NOW with Sky Cinema.

The Queen - Cherie Blair

Helen McCrory The Queen Pathé Distribution

In 2006, McCrory starred alongside Michael Sheen as former Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife Cherie Blair in the film The Queen, as well as the 2010 follow up, The Special Relationship.

In a 2009 interview with The Scotsman, McCrory admitted that portraying Cherie was something of a challenge because there was hardly any video footage of her at the time.

"The first time, when we did The Queen, there was hardly anything on Cherie, because Blair was still Prime Minister and she was very, very discreet, in the background, not being interviewed," she said.

Following the news of McCrory's passing, Cherie Blair paid tribute on her LinkedIn page, writing: "Rest in Peace Helen McCrory who has died today. My heart goes out to her husband Damian Lewis and their children for their sad loss.

"I was lucky enough to meet her and I was flattered and humbled that someone so beautiful and talented agreed to play me in the films The Queen and The Special Relationship. She was amazing in Peaky Blinders."

Watch The Queen on Netflix and Prime Video.