Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The House of Redgrave

A gossipy, sometimes poisonous 
account of a complex acting family

     I saw The House of Redgrave:  The Lives of a Theatrical Dynasty by Tim Adler in an independent Canadian bookshop and I bought it because I doubted it would ever be released in the U.S.  The Redgraves are a big deal in England and Canada, but most Americans are probably aware more of Vanessa Redgrave and Liam Neeson than the rest of the family.  They’ve been actors for five generations and though it seemed like Adler would provide
an in-depth analysis of their history and careers, he’s more interested in Tony Richardson, Vanessa’s first husband and father of Natasha and Joely Richardson, than any other figure.

Tony Richardson with
Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha
     Richardson was certainly a trailblazer in British theatre in the 1950s as co-founder of The Royal Court and as a 1960s movie director (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,
Tony Richardson
Tom Jones).  He made and spent fortunes as he produced and/or directed some spectacular successes and resounding flops.  His personality was both mercurial and extraordinarily narcissistic and he was altogether fascinating both psychologically and artistically.  But he’s not a big name, so the cover focuses on Vanessa.  Adler pretty much cuts her apart because of her political causes and the attention they took away from her parenting.  Unfortunately, he does not report with scrupulous detail about her acting career, her significant performances on stage and on screen, or about her cultural impact.  He treats a major, controversial star as a difficult working actress with sinister sidelines in crackpot political movements.

Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave
     Lynn Redgrave, known to many Americans because of television and stage performances (she was a profound and frightening Arkadina in the American premiere of Tennessee Williams’ The Notebook of Trigorin, which we saw in 1996 at The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), and her father
Michael Redgrave
Michael Redgrave, one of the great British actors of the twentieth century are given short shrift beyond noting their professional credits and personal/familial problems.  

     So, although The Sunday Times critic thought it “no hatchet job,” I disagree with reservations.  Yes, it was researched, but not always accurately.  It’s also tough on family members in a way that feels personal.  At the end, Adler reveals his connection to the Redgraves.  All I can say is watch out for your children’s high school and college friends.  You never know what they’ll say or publish about you.

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