5 essential Helena Bonham Carter roles as the Jewish actress turns 55


Courtesy Paramount Pictures


If you see Helena Bonham Carter pop up on your television or large movie screen, one should always know this won’t be a straight-laced performance. The British actress, whose mother is of Jewish descent, is the epitome of eccentricity in her roles in film, especially when paired with her ex-husband, Tim Burton, and his partner in crime, Johnny Depp. Weird doesn’t do it justice; it’s almost as if she cranks up the oddity of her characters to a much higher degree. But it’s all in the name of good theater, so let’s take a quick look at five of her best roles on her 55th birthday. Or in other words, the ones I liked the most.

Marla Singer in “Fight Club”

While Brad Pitt and Edward Norton’s performances are lauded in David Fincher’s testosterone-fueled punk classic, Bonham Carter is the thread that binds the two together in the plot of the film, which tracks Norton’s morose loner’s upshot in life when he meets Pitt’s mysterious bad boy, Tyler Durden. Marla is the chaotic woman in the middle, the one toying and stretching their minds and the plot along for the audience’s amusement. Whenever she pops up in a film, it looks like Maleficent came to play. Fincher used her perfectly here.

Jenny in “Big Fish”

For the record, Bonham Carter played three different roles in this film, Jenny at young and old age, as well as the witch. This is one of Burton’s most underrated efforts, where he plucked Ewan McGregor instead of Depp to play his everyman. She was one of the many links to his past, one that includes many adventures involving his father (played by Albert Finney). A movie about a young man trying to figure out if his dad’s vicariously rich stories were true or not needed a little sublime grace, which Bonham Carter provided in a number of supporting roles. She was the everywoman for Burton’s artistic pleasures, giving Jenny a tough yet rich backstory.

Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Arguably her best role in a setting that brought out all her cinematic attributes, Bonham Carter paired perfectly with Depp’s twisted take on the mad barber who slit throats instead of giving customers a nice haircut. She was the torturous soul who turned those unfortunate souls into pie, an act that spurns wide-eyed mystery on Fleet Street. The look, acting, and general aesthetic of this film carried high marks all around, but Bonham Carter’s damsel baker was the heart and soul of the operation. Also, one of the few times she held part of the top billing.

Eudoria Holmes in “Enola Holmes”

I feel like this Netflix film was one of 2020’s best kept secrets, a year in film that seems lost to most people. Playing the mother of an aspiring detective (“Stranger Things” breakout star, Millie Bobby Brown), Bonham Carter was the karate-teaching, manner-enforcing, tough-as-nails matriarch of a family stuffed with detectives. While the young British actress stole the show, Bonham Carter and co-stars like Henry Cavill got their time to shine. These sort of roles come easier to her than any other genre or setup, a time period that Bonham Carter could be transported back to and fit in quite easily. Once again, she just steals scenes.

Queen Elizabeth in “The King’s Speech”

In a movie dominated by top male billing, Bonham Carter gave an impeccable performance as the lady who helped King George (Colin Firth) stand up tall when he could barely even speak. The powerful queen that helped her king overcome a stammer that stunted his growth in the United Kingdom highest rankings. If there was ever a role where Bonham Carter didn’t play wicked weird, this was it. But even here in this screenplay, she adds just the right amount of spice to a woman trying to pave a path for her country, one speech therapist at a time. I found myself most delighted by her in this wonderful film, one that saw her receive a best supporting actress nomination.

Bonham Carter has been nominated for two Oscars, including 1998’s “The Wings of the Dove.” Overall award wise, she has 101 nominations and 46 wins in a career spanning 38 years and more than 100 different films and television shows. Often the woman behind the man, she has crafted an eclectic gathering of make-believe creations.