January 2, 2017


Vanessa Redgrave (1937-) b. London, England.

Vanessa Redgrave

Born 1937, in London, England. Vanessa Redgrave is part of a theatrical family that she has herself has added to, she is the daughter of actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson. She attended Queensgate School and later studied drama at London’s Central School of Music and Dance. She initially trained for a career in ballet, her first love, at Ballet Rambert School but abandoned this when she grew too tall. In 1958 she made her film debut playing Pamela Gray in Behind the Mask, as the daughter of a schoolmaster, played by her father, Michael Redgrave. Redgrave would not appear on screen again for another eight years.

In 1961, she was invited by Peter Hall to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and won great acclaim for her performance as Rosalind in As You Like. She was married between 1962 and 1967 to the director Tony Richardson; they had two daughters, Joely and Natasha. Redgrave took time off from acting whilst raising her daughters and returned in 1966, making a cameo appearance as Anne Boleyn in Fred Zinneman’s adaptation of A Man for All Seasons (1966), and co-starring in Karel Reisz’s comedy Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966). In the same year, she appeared as the cool London swinger in the photograph in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966), and received a Golden Globe award the her part in Joshua Logan’s Camelot (1966). In 1967, Redgrave was made a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.), and divorced her husband Tony Richardson. That year she returned to the West End in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Redgrave also appeared as a stuffy Englishwoman in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), a film directed by Tony Richardson. In 1969, Redgrave had a son Carlo; the father was the Italian actor Franco Nero, her co-star in Camelot. She rounded off the decade by appearing in Richard Attenborough‘s anti-war musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969).

During the 1970s her stage roles included Polly Peachum in The Three Penny Opera and Gilda in Noel Coward‘s Design for Living as well as parts in various Shakespeare plays. Her film roles were of varying quality, the highlights from this period include The Trojan Women (1971), and her Oscar-nominated turn opposite Glenda Jackson in Mary Queen of Scots (1971). Redgrave accepted less satisfying roles as sex-crazed Mother Superior in Ken Russell‘s The Devils (1971) and was misplaced as Mary Debenham in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). One of her better roles was portraying a tragic Resistance fighter in Julia (1977), which won Redgrave an Academy Award for best supporting actress. Redgrave’s left-wing politics have probably not helped her screen prospects in Hollywood; she became a tireless campaigner for Palestinian civil rights in Israel and the Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

In the 1980s she again appeared in The Seagull and The Taming of the Shrew as well as other plays, including a dramatisation of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers. She also appeared in productions of Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet and a spirited revival of Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending. She did a fine job portraying a feminist in James Ivory’s The Bostonians (1984), and Joe Orton’s literary agent in Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a fascinating film about the career and death of the homosexual writer.

During the 1990s, Redgrave came into her own as a leading character actress. She appeared in a number of distinguished films, including an acclaimed performance as the lonely eccentric in the Merchant-Ivory masterpiece Howards End (1992), Miss Bentley in A Month by the Lake (1995), Max in the Brian De Palma blockbuster Mission Impossible (1996), Oscar Wilde’s mother in Wilde (1997), and a cameo role in the adaptation of Peter Hoeg’s best-selling thriller Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997). As the 90s drew to a close Redgrave continued her productive screen career by appearing in numerous star vehicles including the role of Robin Lerner in Deep Impact (1998), Dr Wick in Girl, Interrupted (1999) and a cameo appearance in The Pledge (2001).

Television afforded Redgrave a popular and productive outlet when she was cast as Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston Churchill, in The Gathering Storm in 2002, and as the mother of Joely Richardson in the controversial drama about plastic surgeons, Nip/Tuck (2003). Back on the big screen, she has won acclaim for her supporting roles as the cheerily dishevelled ex-wife of Peter O’Toole in Venus (2006), and characteristically intense performance as the present-day Briony in Atonement (2007). Redgrave probably remains too outspoken to be awarded a much-deserved damehood.

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