I’m in awe of Helena Bonham Carter on and off screen

Mark Jefferies recalls an encounter with the Burton and Taylor actress which left his cheeks burning...

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I don’t get tongue-tied or shy in front of celebrities often. That is not me boasting, but once you have been speaking to actors, TV bosses and presenters for years, you get used to it and try to treat them like everyone else in life.

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But this week, for a minute, I became a gushing fan when I got to meet Helena Bonham Carter. After brief introductions I said “you were amazing” before making a swift exit with my cheeks burning. But the truth is she is an amazing and sometimes underrated British actress.

My meeting with Helena came just after I had watched the new BBC4 film Burton and Taylor. I have rarely seen such a brilliant feature length drama on TV. It will make people laugh, cry and smile like all great television should. Helena is Liz Taylor while Dominic West is Richard Burton and the chemistry between them is superb as they chart the story of their ill-fated appearance in a 1983 revival of Noel Coward’s stage play, Private Lives.

At the time the pair were ex-lovers and the relationship was volatile, confused and complicated. Helena and Dominic capture this brilliantly and director Richard Laxton has made the film ooze quality. It would not look out of place in cinemas around the country, so it seems incredible and almost impossible that the budget for the film was tight and it was made in just 18 days.

But Laxton knew he was onto a good thing with the two lead actors. He explained: “The time was terrifying because I couldn’t bear not to shoot the script. It wasn’t like there were bits of it where we were like, ‘We’ll gloss over that bit.’ I wanted to capture it all.

“As soon as we started rehearsing and actually when we started the first day of shooting, you just went, ‘This is extraordinary. This has to be shot.’ So you end up in a strange zone. But you just try and grab all of it and capture it.”

Dominic for his part returned to Richard Burton’s birthplace for research in Wales and found it “moving” and was inspired. Helena read books, talked to Liz’s friends and even got an astrologer to help her create her own version of the movie icon.

At one point after the screening, Helena said: “I often felt that they were upstaged by their own fame. And I don’t want this to be upstaged by their fame either. I think it’s a beautiful script and I did it because of the script.”

She made the right choice, and hopefully millions of people will tune in to make that choice worthwhile.

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Mark Jefferies is Deputy Showbiz and TV Editor at the Daily Mirror. Burton and Taylor is on BBC4 on Monday night.