Frank McLynn

He’s Tall, He’s Rangy

Secret Dreams: The Biography of Michael Redgrave


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MICHAEL REDGRAVE’S ACHIEVEMENTS as an actor were so multitudinous that a review of his life must perforce contain a lot of lists. He was one of the top ten British actors of the twentieth century (the others being, in my humble opinion, Olivier, Gielgud, Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Burton, Paul Scofield, Charles Laughton, James Mason and Robert Donat). He acted in all the major Shakespearean roles on stage and turned in sterling (sometimes brilliant) performances on film, the best being in (another top ten) The Browning Version, Dead of Night, Mourning Becomes Electra, Thunder Rock, The Stars Look Down, The Way to the Stars, The Lady Wnishes, Fame is the Spur, The Dam Busters and The Quiet American. On stage he worked with everyone from Tyrone Guthrie to Peter Hall, while in the movies his directors included many of the finest celluloid talents ever: Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Carol Reed, Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, Joseph Mankiewicz, Sidney Lumet. Redgrave was often considered a cerebral actor, all technique but no real heart, and I must admit that, influenced above all by Kenneth Tynan and my own film-going, I used to agree with this assessment. It is just one of the many merits of Alan Strachan’s splendid, thorough and insightful biography that he persuades me that this is quite wrong and that Redgrave was a truly great actor. In a limited sense one can say that Redgrave was an intellectual: he was bookish, relished the theories of Stanislavsky on acting, had leftist political leanings and a generally engage social stance (CND, etc), but the sceptic might say that his heavy drinking was at least as important a part of his personal profile.

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