Cillian Murphy, JK Rowling and Sir Sam Mendes lead tributes to the “fearless and magnificent” actress.
Stars have paid tribute to Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter actress Helen McCrory who has died of cancer aged 52.
Cillian Murphy, who starred alongside her in the BBC drama, described her as “fearless and magnificent”.
Also known for her stage performances, National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris said she was “one of the great actors of her generation”.
Her husband, actor Damian Lewis, announced her death on Friday “after an heroic battle with cancer”.
He said he was “heartbroken”, and that she was a “beautiful and mighty woman”.
As well as her film and TV credits, she played seven lead roles at the National Theatre, whose boss Rufus Norris said: “With her incisive wit and ferocious intelligence, she was one of the most charismatic and distinctive performers.”
She also worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Almeida and the Donmar Warehouse, and earned rave reviews for her role in Uncle Vanya in London and New York in 2002 and 2003.
Carrie Cracknell, who directed McCrory in a stage production of Medea, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she was one of “very, very few” people who knew about her illness and was “sworn to secrecy”.
“Helen wanted to be very private about her illness and I understand why,” she said. “When you live in the public spotlight you have to find the space to protect the things that are just for you. And certainly that was, it was for her and her family and her very closest friends.”
Ms Cracknell said working with McCrory was “one of the highlights of my professional life”.
“She had this extraordinary, fierce depth of character and complexity and ability to articulate so many parts of the human condition.”
“She was this tiny, tiny woman and she would stand in the middle of the Olivier stage and sort of be possessed really, it was like she was transforming,” she said.
She said McCrory’s charity work and commitment to her family had defined her last few years of life, with her not wanting people to focus on her illness.
“She faced up to it with a level of bravery and humour that was completely extraordinary and as ever was teaching people how to live so it was a remarkable thing.”
Sir Richard Eyre, who gave McCrory one of her first significant stage roles in the 1990s, said one of the most upsetting things about her death was that “we will be deprived of major performances that she would have been able to give” and described her as a successor to Dame Judi Dench.
In 2003, she met Lewis when they both starred in a play called Five Gold Rings at the Almeida Theatre in London.
McCrory was nominated for two of London’s Olivier Awards for playing Rosalind in As You Like It in 2006, and for The Last of the Haussmans in 2013.
The actress was perhaps best known for playing Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby clan, in all five series of hit BBC period gang drama Peaky Blinders from its start in 2013.
Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight said: “Helen was one of the great actors of her generation. She was so powerful and controlled and this is so sad.”
Murphy, who played Tommy Shelby in the show, added he was “broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend”, describing her as “a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being”.
“She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played,” he said, adding it was “a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman… I will dearly miss my pal”.
BBC director of drama Piers Wenger added: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see.”
Actor Michael Sheen, who worked with McCrory on the 2006 film The Queen and more recently in ITV drama Quiz, described her death as “heartbreaking” and said it had been “an honour to work with her and know her” in a post on social media.
“So funny, so passionate, so smart and one of the greatest actors of our time,” he tweeted.
“From the first moment I met her when we were just kids it was obvious she was very special.”
Alongside a photo of McCrory, actress Dame Helen Mirren wrote on Instagram: “A great actress and a great person. this is so very very sad.”
McCrory married Homeland star Lewis in 2007 and they had two children.
Last year, the couple raised more than £1m to provide NHS workers with meals from high street restaurants during the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
Comedian Matt Lucas, who worked with them on the FeedNHS campaign, tweeted that she “will be remembered not just for her remarkable stage and screen performances, but also for her selflessness and generosity”.
McCrory played Narcissa Malfoy, the wife of Lucius Malfoy and Draco’s mother, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2.
In her tribute, Harry Potter author JK Rowling wrote: “I’m devastated to learn of the death of Helen McCrory, an extraordinary actress and a wonderful woman who’s left us far too soon.
“My deepest condolences to her family, especially her husband and children.”
Her other screen roles included the MP Clair Dowar in 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie in the films The Queen and The Special Relationship.
She provided the voice of Stelmaria, Lord Asriel’s snow leopard daemon, in the recent BBC One TV series His Dark Materials, and the show’s Twitter account called her “uniquely talented”.
Film and theatre director Sir Sam Mendes, who directed Skyfall, remembered her as “an astonishing talent, a fabulous person, and an absolute true original”.