Helen McCrory, the accomplished and versatile British stage and screen actress who played Narcissa Malfoy in three Harry Potter films and Polly Gray on the BBC series “Peaky Blinders,” in addition to receiving critical acclaim for her stage work, died at her home in north London. She was 52 years old at the time.
Her husband, actor Damian Lewis, declared her death from cancer on social media on Friday.
Ms. McCrory was a well-known face in London theaters and on British television and film long before she became well-known thanks to the Harry Potter films. She debuted in the theater in 1990, fresh out of drama school, playing Gwendolen in a Harrogate, Yorkshire production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Richard Eyre, then the director of the National Theater, cast her in the leading role of Arthur Wing Pinero’s comic play “Trelawny of the “Wells,” for which she received rave reviews in 1993.
Sheridan Morley of The International Herald Tribune wrote, “Helen McCrory, in the title role, ideally captures Rose’s crossover from a lovelorn ingénue to wounded woman.”
The following year, she starred alongside Judi Dench and Bill Nighy in Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at the National Theater, and in 1995, she was voted “most promising newcomer” in the Shakespeare Globe Awards for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth in the West End.
Over the next two decades, Ms. McCrory worked steadily in the theatre, with notable roles as Yelena in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” in 2002; Rosalind in “As You Like It” in 2005 (for which she earned an Olivier Award nomination for best actress); Rebecca West in Ibsen’s “Rosmersholm” in 2008; and Medea in 2016.
“The Medea of ancient myth has become the sad yet frightening mad lady next door, the kind who inspires you to lock up your children,” Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, “portrayed with disturbing accessibility and piano wire nerves by Helen McCrory.”
Ms. McCrory, on the other hand, began working in film and television as early as 1994. In 2003, she played Barbara Villiers, Charles II’s mistress, in Joe Wright’s four-part series “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” and in 2006, she played Cherie Blair, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, in Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” a role she reprised in the 2010 film “The Special Relationship,” written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote “The Queen.”
Ms. McCrory rose to prominence after appearing in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in 2009 as Narcissa Malfoy, the mother of Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy. She reprised her appearance in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2,” the series’ final installments. (She had been cast in a larger part in the earlier “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” as Bellatrix Lestrange, but had to withdraw due to her pregnancy; Helena Bonham Carter took her place.)
She excelled at portraying villains, including the evil alien Rosanna Calvierri in a “Doctor Who” episode, the spiritualist Evelyn Poole in the “Penny Dreadful” sequence, and, perhaps most notably, Polly Gray, the aunt of gang boss Tommy Shelby on the period crime drama “Peaky Blinders,” which she played for the entire five-season run from 2013 to 2019.
Helen Elizabeth McCrory, the eldest of three daughters, was born on August 17, 1968, in London’s Paddington neighborhood. Iain McCrory, her father, was a diplomat, and Ann (Morgans) McCrory, her mother, worked for the National Health Service.
Her father’s work for the Foreign Service brought the family to Tanzania, Norway, Madagascar, and Paris during her childhood.
In a 2014 interview with The Times of London, Ms. McCrory said, “Dad says my first appearance onstage was dancing during an official visit by the French president.” “I believe it was about that time that I first considered becoming an actress. At the residence, every evening was like a mini-concert.”
She was sent back to England when she was in her teens, to the Queenswood School for Girls in Hertfordshire. She started acting while there and spent a year traveling around Italy after graduation before being accepted into the Drama Center London.
She told The Times of London in 2017 that becoming an actress was “the only thing I wanted to do,” and that she had been “incredibly fortunate” to be cast in major roles so quickly.
Mr. Lewis and Ms. McCrory met in 2003 at the Almeida Theater in London, where they were both performing in Joanna Laurens’ “Five Gold Rings.” She said on the BBC 4 radio program “Desert Island Discs” last year, “Damian’s naughty, and I’ve always loved my naughty boys.” They married in 2007 and had two children, Manon in 2006 and Gulliver in 2007. Mr. Lewis gained attention on the television shows “Homeland” and “Billions,” but they kept a low-key life in London.
In 2016, Ms. McCrory told The Times of London, “I’m much happier as I’ve gotten older.” “Age has brought me nothing but comfort, trust, and joy.” “To me, ‘Helen McCrory, 47′ means nothing,” she said. ‘Helen McCrory, poor housewife and argumentative after a bottle of gin,’ for example, will be much more relevant.”
She has recently starred in David Hare’s political drama “Roadkill” and James Graham’s “Quiz,” as well as providing the voice of a daemon in “His Dark Materials.”
During the coronavirus pandemic last year, Ms. McCrory and Mr. Lewis spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to provide meals for members of the National Health staff. Their efforts resulted in a donation to the Feed NHS Scheme of nearly £1 million ($1.4 million). She appeared on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” with Mr. Lewis just a month ago, on March 12, to discuss the project.
Her disease was not well recognized, and most people were surprised when she died. In addition to her husband and children, complete information on survivors was not immediately available.