JANUARY 16, 1987: Miss MIrren regrets...she is unable to accept the invitation to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales at the Royal Charity premiere of The Mosquito Coast in London on February 4. She is otherwise engaged, playing Madam Bovary at Watford Palace Theatre.

Actually, Helen Mirren has no regrets - after Mosquito Coast, where she plays the docile wife who follows her eccentric husband, Harrison Ford, in search of a new life in the jungle, she is enjoying cool Watford and her part in Edna O'Brien's adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel.

"Madam Bovary is a real woman, which ia rare on the stage. Women in plays tend to be too good or too bad.

"Madame Bovary is totally flawed, but attractive."

Two years ago Helen Mirren quit Britain and moved to live in Los Angeles with film director Taylor Hackford.

"I was totally disenchanted and sickened by the general England I saw reflected through the newspapers, the unbelievable bilge people were being fed."

The actress, who has earned most of her credits through brilliant portrayal of leading ladies with the Royal Shakespeare Company, is eloquent and earnest on the subject, "something rotten in the state of England".

But running away from it all, she admits, taught her something.

"Getting away makes you realise what you love about your country," - and, anyway, she accepts with a delightful smile, she will always be mainly an English actress, with a home in America.

"This is exactly the right way to come back after two years. To be in Watford in the cold and the snow, doing what I really love.

"It is small theatres like Watford that keep English theatre alive. But for them the West End would be dead."

With an equally distinguished career in film (she received the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Cal) and theatre, which does Helen Mirren prefer?

"Always the other," she says, laughing and adding: "When I work in theatre, I think 'What hard work, not paid anything....' and after a period of filming, 'Boring, not acting, and how much nicer it is in English theatre'."

March 28, 2002 08:30