Perhaps the actress most widely identified with corsets and men named Cecil, Helena Bonham Carter was for a long time typecast as an antiquated heroine, no doubt helped by her own brand of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. With a tumble of brown curls (which were, in fact, hair extensions), huge dark eyes, and translucent pale skin, Bonham Carter's looks made her a natural for movies that took place when the sun still shone over the British Empire and the sight of a bare ankle could induce convulsions. However, the actress, once dubbed by critic Richard Corliss "our modern antique goddess," managed to escape from planet Merchant/Ivory and, while still performing in a number of period pieces, eventually became recognized as an actress capable of portraying thoroughly modern characters.
Befitting her double-barreled family name, Bonham Carter is a descendant of the British aristocracy, both social and cinematic. The great-granddaughter of P.M. Lord Herbert Asquith and the grandniece of director Anthony Asquith, she was born to a banker father and a Spanish psychotherapist mother on May 26, 1966, in London. Although her heritage may have been defined by wealth and power, Bonham Carter's upbringing was fraught with misfortune, from her father's paralysis following a botched surgery to her mother's nervous breakdown when the actress was in her teens. Bonham Carter has said in interviews that her mother's breakdown first led her to seek work as an actress and she was soon going out on auditions.