Helen Mirren on the shift in roles for women on TV: ‘It’s taken much too long, but it’s finally happened’

Actress Helen Mirren has been inducted into the Radio Times Hall of Fame alongside David Attenborough, Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin

Helen Mirren, credit: Giles Keyte

Helen Mirren has said the shift in TV roles for women has “finally happened” – but it has “taken too long.”

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Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com ahead of her induction into the Radio Times Hall of Fame, the actress said she had noted a “massive” change within the TV industry over the last few years.

Mirren first appeared on television in 1967 and, in an acting career spanning five decades, has starred in more than 130 films and TV shows including Prime Suspect, The Queen, and Gosford Park.

Asked about whether roles for women on the small screen had shifted, Mirren said: “Absolutely. In the last five years, incredible. It’s taken a long time, taken too long, much too long. But I think it’s finally happened.”

Ahead of her return to TV in Catherine the Great on Sky Atlantic, Mirren said her role as DCI Jane Tennison in crime drama Prime Suspect had “absolutely” been a game-changer for female characters on TV.

“I got lucky. I got the role,” she said, crediting the female writer and producer behind the show: “I took that ball and I ran with it, if you like, but the insemination of that was Lynda La Plante and Sally Head.”

Mirren’s Hall of Fame induction marks the final night of the BFI & Radio Times Festival, as she joins existing members David Attenborough, Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin. “I’m obviously in very good company, and it’s an honour,” she said, joking: “Do I get a badge?”

The ceremony is also a chance to look back over a long and varied career on screen.

“I started thinking about the number of TV things I’ve done, and I suddenly realised, my goodness I’ve actually done a huge amount of television,” Mirren said. “Of great variety as well, in the past. So it’s kind of nice to revisit that… it made me think about all those things that I haven’t thought about in a long time.”

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But there’s one downside to a Hall of Fame induction, Mirren joked: “It is a little bit of an indication of the fact you might be getting a little past it… there’s that slight feeling: oh dear, is this the end?”