The Best Movie Ever | Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter is one of those very rare thespians who successfully jumps back and forth between acclaimed “serious” dramas, and successful multimillion dollar toy commercials. She’s been nominated for two Oscars, and played a vile witch in the Harry Potter movies. She’s equally at home in the world of William Shakespeare and the world of Chuck Palahniuk.

So now, children all over the world recognize Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen from Disney’s blockbuster Alice movies, but her fans know there’s more to her than that. And so do the critics. This week on The Best Movie Ever, we’re asking our panel of experts – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to present their picks for the best Helena Bonham Carter movie ever, and as usual they couldn’t agree on a thing.

Find out what Helena Bonham Carter movies they picked, and come back next week for another all-new, highly debatable installment of The Best Movie Ever!


Witney Seibold’s Pick: Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996)

Fine Line Features

Helena Bonham Carter, perhaps tapping into the familiarly bottomless well of a British actor’s work ethic, has devoted herself to a wide variety of odd roles throughout her career. She can be seen in classical pieces, but is also known for bonkers FX-driven blockbusters. She can overplay, screech, mope, and deliver histrionics with the best of them, but, when given the chance, can be vulnerable, quiet, intense, and amazing. And she is equally capable of both. When she appears in a Tim Burton film, for instance, she is wholly committed to that freaky witch, cannibal, or big-headed fantasy mutant. 

When selecting her best film – that is, a great film to feature what may amount to be one of her best performances – one must go to the days of her rising star, back before she was discovered by American casting agents and Harry Potter fans. Carter’s best film is, after some serious consideration, Trevor Nunn’s 1996 film rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will. In it, Carter plays Olivia, the smitten queen who falls in love with the young Viola, a woman disguised as a man. 

In many renditions of Twelfth Night, Olivia may often be reduced to a simp or a romantic plot point. Shakespeare, however, meant the character to be just as strong, funky, smart, and resolute as Viola (they even have similar names), and the role can provide a talented actress with the chance to create a lovelorn queen with the smarts and wit and poetry to pursue what she wants. Carter provided Olivia with that wit and that strength. All while being bright and, most importantly, funny. This is an underrated Shakespeare film, and should be seen by more than just Bard enthusiasts.


William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Wings of the Dove (1997)

Miramax Films

I can’t help but detect a wee bit of condescension on the part of the Academy, as far as Helena Bonham Carter is concerned. Although the esteemed actress has made her indelible mark on the popular culture, in powerful Hot Topic classics like Fight Club and Harry Potter, she only gets Oscar nominations for hoity-toity costume dramas like The King’s Speech and The Wings of the Dove. It’s like they’re telling Carter to be prim and proper, but she only cleans up for the fanciest of dinner parties.

But these films are a part of her artistic identity, and in particular, The Wings of the Dove neatly encapsulates her seemingly opposite qualities. In Iain Softley’s drama, and adaptation of a 1902 Henry James novel, she plays a young lady swept up in a passionate affair with a lowly reporter (Linus Roache). She wants to marry him, but circumstances prevent it until she befriends an American woman (Alison Elliott), who happens to be rich and who happens to be dying. And so a plan is hatched, to convince her paramour to wed another, and to marry him once the girl has passed on, so they can live in passion and comfort.

Somehow, it sounds more twisted than it is. Softley’s film is impressively compassionate to all of its players, including Carter, who plays her role not as a villain but as a heroine whose ideals have been slowly suffocated by pragmatism. Over the course of The Wings of the Dove we watch a spitfire fizzle. She is all of her powerful Hot Topic heroines, undone by being born 100 years too early. It’s a rich character, a sad and incredible film, and I daresay it’s the best Helena Bonham Carter movie ever.


Brian Formo’s Pick: Fight Club (1999)

20th Century Fox

Helena Bonham Carter started her career with Merchant Ivory costume dramas. Currently her career primarily consists of wacky costumed fuckery. Her career feels directly split in two between the Ivory Period and the Burton Period. The axe that hit the stump and split the sides is David Fincher’s Fight Club. But while that battering ram of male machismo vs societal expectation feels like an outlier, there’s still a very significant gown for Bonham Carter to wear. It’s a bridesmaid’s dress that she bought from a thrift store for a dollar. “Someone loved it intensely for one day, and then tossed it. Like a Christmas tree. So special, then bam, it’s on the side of the road.” 

Marla Singer is perhaps the most vulnerable of all of Bonham Carter’s characters. Other people’s pain (from support groups) is the only emotional engagement she gets. She’s sexual, sure, but through Tyler Durden’s sex sessions (feeling like a man by screwing a woman into oblivion just so he can hear her say how good it was) she’s seen mostly as a vessel for someone else’s self-support. There’s a caveman narrative going on in Fight Club, but with Marla Singer, there’s a jab back. These “revolutionary” men—who’ve decided to beat the hell out of each other because they don’t want to conform to societal ideas, and who work in a modern workplace that looks at every part of person as a potential sale—can strip their commodity status but they cannot rewire how they make women a subservient commodity.

With her spiky hair, her billowing cigarette smoke, and her power animal substitution for a penguin, Marla Singer can be seen as Bonham Carter’s first toe dip into the weird pool—but it’s the most grounded weirdo. Marla’s “You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me” is more devastating than any of the slow motion punches to the face. Men can beat each other up, but the damage that’s done to a person’s self-worth is far worse. 


Previously on The Best Movie Ever:

Top Photo: Fine Line Features / Miramax Films / 20th Century Fox