Born: August 17, 1968;

Died: April 16, 2021.

RARELY will the loss of an actor register so powerfully and profoundly with theatre and television audiences than the death of Helen McCrory.

McCrory was almost omnipresent on our screens and theatre stages in the past two decades, and the judgment of all those casting directors cannot be questioned.

Helen McCrory was a rarity in that she could convey sexiness with a flicker of an eyelid, or a raising of a cheekbone (as an MP in the Bond film, Skyfall); she could illustrate menace with a sharp stare of her raven eyes (the Brummie matriarch in Peaky Blinders) and indeed a sparkling sense of fun, with the merest hint of a smile (as Cherie Blair in The Queen).

In short, the five-feet-three inch, size-six actor had it all, a massive acting range that graced a wide range of productions.

What gave her this distinctiveness, this connection to the various worlds she would occupy in theatre, from the classics of Chekhov to modern works from the likes of Pinter?

She may have been helped along by early life experience. Helen Elizabeth McCrory was born in London, the daughter of Iain, a Glaswegian diplomat, and his wife Ann, a Welsh physiotherapist.

Her life was peripatetic, her parents moving from Cameroon and Tanzania and onto Norway and France. During her time in Africa, she described herself as a young ‘Mowgli’, who was once chased by rhinos.

The experience produced confidence, but the travel and adventure and change of schools was underpinned by a strong family love. “I think that gives you a bedrock emotionally from which you can take risks,” she once said in interview when asked about playing damaged or challenging characters such as Medea.

The young McCrory’s parents reckoned, however, that she needed stability and sent her to boarding school in Hertfordshire, where she became interested in acting. By the age of 17 she was so captivated by performance that she turned down a place at Oxford. Before attending drama college the young adventurer took off for a year to Italy.

Gradually, she developed as a stage actor, winning third prize in the Ian Charleson Awards for work at the National in 1993. Four years later, she landed a Bafta Wales and a Royal Television Society Best Actress for her role in Streetlife, playing a struggling single mother.

By 2000, television recognised that McCrory –with a rich voice and a naturally magnetic power – was a headline act and she was cast as Anna Karenina in a Channel 4 production.

It was during a theatre run at the Almeida in London three years later that she met the Homeland star Damian Lewis, the man she would eventually marry. Their play wasn’t a success, but director Michael Attenborough was taken aback by the chemistry of his leading actors. “I could have warmed my hands on it,” he said. “It was like directing a fire.”

McCrory’s career trajectory continued to soar upwards. In 2010 she played Cherie Blair in The Special Relationship, a drama covering Tony Blair’s dealings with Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

She appeared in three Harry Potter films (as Narcissa Malfoy) and in the Bond film Skyfall, and played the Prime Minister in political drama, Roadkill. In more recent times, she has appeared in His Dark Materials, and ITV’s Quiz.

But perhaps Helen McCrory’s impact as an actor was supported by other personal qualities. She certainly had a questioning mind, perfect for someone who has to ask continually about the motivation for characters she was portraying.

Perhaps she was able to connect with the people she played was because she was never an aloof, gilded-cage performer. She often spoke of her ‘chaotic’ family life, and was perennially worried about the world in which her children would grow up

It seems she actor never forgot that her paternal grandmother was a single parent, or that her mother’s mother was a pub cleaner. She cared about worker’s rights, exemplified when she once spoke of supermarket policy. “I really, really want every single f****** self-service till to be ripped out of the shops and people put back in.”

She cared about society, too: “I want people to be fined for cancelling NHS appointments. I want the children I meet to be less interested in staring at a computer screen and more interested in talking to me.”

McCrory’s voice was equally powerful in terms of women’s rights. When it came to the subject of screen nudity for example, her mantra was “I think you can’t, on the one hand, say you’re a feminist and then on the other hand walk around giggling at every joke you’re given in a film, with no clothes on.”

What is undeniable is McCrory cared. She was warm. She was passionate. She was a rugby fan who would cry when she heard supporters sing the hymn, Bread of Heaven. And funny. How could you not wish to be at a dinner party with someone who once declared she wouldn’t marry while pregnant? “I wanted to be skinny and drunk, rather than fat and sober,” she grinned.

McCrory, who died after a lengthy battle with cancer, was described by Damian Lewis as “a meteor,” who had the power to shower others with happiness. “Even when dying in her last few days, when talking to our wonderful carers, she repeatedly said, ‘thank you so much’ in her half delirious state.”

It’s really no surprise to read that when one critic, taken with her performance as Lady Macbeth, observed: “I wish Shakespeare had written her more scenes.” What’s truly tragic is that God – or whoever gave us existence – didn’t write in a few more scenes for Helen McCrory.

She is survived by her husband Damian Lewis and their children, Manon and Gulliver.