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Prankster Brand wins Helen's backing

Helen Mirren has defended comic Russell Brand over his prank phone calls -- saying that it is a comedian's job to "step over the line".

Jonathan Ross and Brand landed in hot water, prompting 38,000 complaints, when they left smutty messages on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs.

The scandal which erupted led to the departures of BBC executives, including the station's controller Lesley Douglas, and Brand resigned from his show.

But Mirren, who worked with Brand on the recent Arthur film remake and in The Tempest, suggested the reaction was overblown.

"It really made me cross because that's what comedians are for and that's what makes them so valuable to us," the actress said.

"Sometimes they step over the line but if they didn't do that they wouldn't be of the value that they are.

"And you know, Russell is the kindest person. He's kind, he's got a great heart and he's incredibly smart.

"His brain is fast and brilliant and I hate it when they try to pull these people down.

"Being naughty -- and it was schoolboy kind of behaviour -- is one thing but there came a point where it was 'okay, can we please move on?"'

Of her own roles, the Queen star said that the situation for women was improving.

"I think the roles are more interesting now, more complicated, stronger, but it's not to say that particular battle with the way women are regarded in our profession is over. It's not. But I would say it's better," she said.