Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Amid the ballyhoo over the called election was the news that Corin Redgrave died today aged 70.

Much is made of sister Vanessa's politics and the effect on her acting career but Corin's promising acting career in the 1960s was the one that took the biggest knock as he concentrated more on outside interests, working for the Worker's Revolutionary Party and later taking on the care of his father Michael when his Parkinson's Disease became more advanced.

His early work on screen always seemed a bit colourless, a bit unformed. In the 1970s his screen work slowed down during the decade and in the 1980s he only appeared in two films and two tv projects. But with Michael's death in 1985 and the fading away of the WRP, he found a new interest in performance and slowly started to re-emerge as a strong stage actor - particularly in late-Shakespeare roles - and also carved out a new career as a character actor on screen, ironically usually as upper-class roles. He was of course still a political activist, passionate on the rights of political prisoners and in attempting to get Blair impeached for the Iraq War.

I was lucky to see a few of his stage performances. Among his regular appearances at the Young Vic and National Theatre I saw him at the former in Ibsen's ROSMERSHOLM with Francesca Annis and at the National I am remembering his unfaithful husband opposite Eileen Atkins in HONOUR and the brutal prison warden in the early Tennessee Williams play NOT ABOUT NIGHTINGALES which won him the Olivier Award and a Tony nomination in New York.

He also appeared at the National in a revival of Pinter's NO MAN'S LAND as a supercilious Hirst and at Greenwich in a revival of Clifford Odets' THE COUNTRY GIRL in the role of the alcoholic leading man that his father had originated in the London premiere in 1952.He also appeared twice with his older sister in recent years - at the National he was a masterly Gayev, pampered and snobbish, opposite Vanessa's Ranyevskaya in Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD and at the Gielgud, they played the combative ex-lovers in Coward's SONG AT TWILIGHT. His performance as Hugo Latymer, a man made to confront the memory of his dead gay lover, was marvellously nuanced and ultimately very moving. It must have been strange to play the role bearing in mind he knew that Coward and Redgrave had been lovers when they were younger.

Corin had been aware of his father's bisexuality for many years and while the secret was still kept when he helped write Michael's autobiography, after his father's death he wrote a memoir of their life as father and son as well as making a powerful Omnibus profile on their relationship. It revealed Corin as a man seemingly at ease with himself and the legacy that had passed to him and this I think informed his performance.
Like his father, his later years were filled with cameos and supporting roles in films - he was particularly effective as the pompous Sir Walter Elliott in Roger Michell's 1995 adaptation PERSUASION and as the icy interrogator in Jim Sheridan's IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER.

Corin had suffered a serious heart attack in 2005, coming a few years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and the last time I saw him - in 2008 at an early evening talk being interviewed with Vanessa about their family on the stage of the Lyttleton Theatre - he was still obviously frail. He appeared for the last time on stage last year at the Jermyn Street Theatre in a play about blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo at the same time as his niece Natasha Richardson was killed. His last screen role was in the television adaptation of Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW which was broadcast last Christmas. Again ironically, Michael had appeared in the 1961 screen version THE INNOCENTS.

Corin's generous and humanitarian spirit will be missed both on and offstage.

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