Born and raised in London, Helena Bonham Carter was educated at one of that city's foremost schools, Westminster. Befitting her double-barreled family name, Bonham Carter is a descendant of the British aristocracy—both social and cinematic—the great-granddaughter of Prime Minister Lord Herbert Asquith and the grandniece of director Anthony Asquith.
When her father was battling for his life in intensive care with paralysis, Bonham Carter, who was only 13 at the time, took command of her future by paying to list her photo in a casting directory with money she had won in a poetry competition and thumbing through the yellow pages until she found an agent to represent her. It took two years, but eventually she landed her first acting job in a hi-fi commercial.
Director Trevor Nunn persuaded her to postpone her university studies in order to star in his film Lady Jane, the story of a doomed Lady who ruled England for only nine days before being beheaded.
Although she appears tiny, pale, and frail-looking, she continued to play roles of strength and passion in a long line of period pieces including Room With a View (1985), Hamlet (1990), Howards End (1992), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) and Twelfth Night: Or What You Will (1996). She became the very personification of the romantic 19th-century babe, her name synonymous with corsets, consumptive pallor, and pre-Raphaelite tresses.
In 1997 she received her first Oscar nomination with her steamy turn in Iain Softley's lush adaptation of Henry James' Edwardian-era novel The Wings of the Dove.
She is, of course, not the mirror image of the many characters she plays. "Everyone seems to think I'm very ladylike, that I'm very cultured and intelligent," she has said. "I drink a lot of Diet Coke and belch. I've been known to use the F-word. I've told a few dirty jokes. I arm-wrestle."
Stepping outside of the romantic period, Bonham Carter has made numerous films in contemporary roles, including Woody Allen's adulterous art-dealer wife in Mighty Aphrodite (1995) and drug addict Marla in Fight Club (1999).
She has also made several appearances on small screen movies, such as a victim of anorexia in Getting It Right, a stripper in Dance Queen, a widow in Fatal Deception and a portrayal of Morgan Le Fey in Merlin. Television guest appearances include Miami Vice and Absolutely Fabulous.
In 1993, she was working on Frankenstein (1994) with co-star and director, Kenneth Branagh, when the two began an affair, although Branagh was married to Emma Thompson at the time. Between 1994 and 1999, Helena and Kenneth, who starred her in a number of films he directed, lived together. She then moved on to director Tim Burton, with whom she has two children, although they have also since separated.
Helena played roles in several of Burton's films: Jenny in Big Fish (2003), Charlie's mother in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland (2010) and the 2016 sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass.
She played the evil Bellatrix Lestrange in several of the Harry Potter movies and the Fairy Godmother in Disney's live-action Cinderella (2015), and narrated the animated feature Sgt Stubby: An American Hero (2018). The same year, she played Rose in the heist pic, Ocean's 8 (2018), starring Sandra Bullock.
With Netflix becoming a popular outlet for quality film and television, she was cast as Princess Margaret on the third and fourth seasons of their popular series The Crown in 2019, then as the mother of Sherlock Holmes in the streaming service's film Enola Holmes (2020), starring Millie Bobby Brown in the title role, with Henry Cavill as her older brother.
Enola Holmes (Netflix)
The Crown (Netflix)
Ocean's 8 (2018)
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (2018)
Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2015)
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Les Misérables (2012)
Great Expectations (2012)
Dark Shadows (2012)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
The King’s Speech (2010)
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Sweeney Tood: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Sixty Six (2006)
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Big Fish (2003)
Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002)
The Heart of Me (2002)
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Women Talking Dirty (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
The Theory of Flight (1998)
The Revengers’ Comedies (1998)
Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1997)
The Wings of the Dove (1997)
The Petticoat Expeditions (1997)
Portraits chinois (1996)
Twelfth Night (1996)
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Margaret’s Museum (1995)
Howards End (1992)
Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)
Getting It Right (1989)
La maschera (1988)
Lady Jane (1986)
A Room with a View (1985)