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Redgrave, Michael (1908-1985)


Main image of Redgrave, Michael (1908-1985)

Despite a certain chilliness in his film persona, Michael Redgrave had arguably the most sustained screen career of any of the theatrical knights of his day.

He became immensely popular after his leading role as the eccentric musicologist in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), and gave impressive proof of his range as the idealistic son of the mining family in The Stars Look Down (d. Carol Reed, 1939), but there was always perhaps something too cerebral about his film work for easy stardom. Instead, he gave one excellent performance after another, easily sliding into character roles at an age when many stars were still bent on essaying romantic leads.

The son of actors, Roy Redgrave and Margaret Scudamore, Cambridge-educated Redgrave was a schoolteacher before taking to the stage in 1934 (London 1936).

His illustrious stage career involved seasons with the Old Vic (John Gielgud's legendary company of 1937-38), Stratford and Chichester, in Shakespeare, Chekhov (a great Uncle Vanya, 1963) and many modern plays, including The Old Boys (1971).

His theatrical CV occupies four columns in Who's Who in the Theatre (1972), and this, along with about 50 films and plentiful TV, testifies to a crowded career. More articulate than many about the craft of acting - he was the author of two books about it - and of the relative rewards of the various media, he notched up a strikingly versatile run of screen performances.

There were three fine - and notably varied - roles for director Anthony Asquith: as the poetic Flight-Lieutenant who is killed in The Way to the Stars (1945), the failed, embittered schoolmaster in The Browning Version (1951), and a definitive Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

As well he gave brilliant studies in mounting terror as the deranged ventriloquist in Dead of Night (d. Cavalcanti, 1945) and the Air Marshal caught in a nightmare in The Night My Number Came Up (d. Leslie Norman, 1955), delineated movingly the rise in prestige and loss of ideals in the protagonist of Fame Is the Spur (d. Roy Boulting, 1947), and, from the mid 1950s, gave any number of well-wrought character studies. Of these latter, the humane, limited prison governor in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (d. Tony Richardson, 1962) and The Go-Between (d. Joseph Losey, 1971), as ruined old man, are among the most notable.

His late 1940s attempt at a Hollywood star career failed, but he would from time to time appear in US films, including The Quiet American (d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1958).

Tall (6'4") and imposing, he was bumpily married (there were affairs with both men and women) to Rachel Kempson, and their children, Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave are all actors, as are his grandchildren, Joely and Natasha Richardson and Jemma Redgrave.

Autobiography: In My Mind's Eye (1983). Biographies: A Family & Its Fortunes by Rachel Kempson (1986), Michael Redgrave: My Father by Corin Redgrave (1995).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopaedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Browning Version, The (1951)Browning Version, The (1951)

Michael Redgrave excels as an emotionally repressed schoolteacher

Thumbnail image of Captive Heart, The (1946)Captive Heart, The (1946)

Ealing POW drama, made only a few months after the end of WWII

Thumbnail image of Dam Busters, The (1955)Dam Busters, The (1955)

Much-loved World War II classic about the famous bombing raid

Thumbnail image of Dead of Night (1945)Dead of Night (1945)

Classic Ealing portmanteau film: five tales of the supernatural

Thumbnail image of Diary For Timothy, A (1946)Diary For Timothy, A (1946)

Classic documentary pondering the future of a baby born in 1944

Thumbnail image of Go-Between, The (1971)Go-Between, The (1971)

Acclaimed adaptation of L.P. Hartley's novel about a boy's loss of innocence

Thumbnail image of Importance of Being Earnest, The (1952)Importance of Being Earnest, The (1952)

Glorious adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic play

Thumbnail image of Innocents, The (1961)Innocents, The (1961)

Unnerving ghost story based on Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw'

Thumbnail image of Lady Vanishes, The (1938)Lady Vanishes, The (1938)

Glorious comic thriller about a mysteriously disappearing old woman

Thumbnail image of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)

A borstal boy turns marathon runner in this adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955)Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955)

Powell & Pressburger musical comedy based on 'Die Fledermaus'

Thumbnail image of Stars Look Down, The (1939)Stars Look Down, The (1939)

Breakthrough film for Carol Reed, a progressive pit community drama

Thumbnail image of Way to the Stars, The (1945)Way to the Stars, The (1945)

Deceptively low-key drama about RAF pilots in World War II

Thumbnail image of Alice in Wonderland (1966)Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Jonathan Miller's startlingly imaginative version of Lewis Carroll's fantasy

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Thumbnail image of Redgrave, Lynn (1943-)Redgrave, Lynn (1943-)


Thumbnail image of Redgrave, Vanessa (1937-)Redgrave, Vanessa (1937-)


Thumbnail image of Richardson, Joely (1965-)Richardson, Joely (1965-)


Thumbnail image of Richardson, Natasha (1963-2009)Richardson, Natasha (1963-2009)