A freelance critic and author returns with a blend of biography and criticism in his reconstruction of the life of the woman many consider the greatest actress of her time.
Redgrave (born 1937) did not cooperate with Callahan’s (Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman, 2012) project, and we witness no encounters between them until the final pages. Instead, the author relies heavily on her filmed appearances (TV and movies—he appears to have seen everything), published reviews of her performances, memoirs of the principals, accounts in periodicals (including the far-left political activities that imperiled her career), and interviews with others who knew and know her. Callahan’s treatment, sturdily chronological, informs us about her parents (Michael, her father, is a major character), her love affairs (Franco Nero and Timothy Dalton are among the most prominent), her beginnings in theater (she played in Saint Joan in high school), the evolution of her philosophy and technique of luminescent acting, and her early films and breakout role as Guinevere in the film of Camelot (1967), a production the author calls the “ruination of a delightful show.” Callahan moves steadily through her work, pausing occasionally to give detailed summaries and analyses of specific productions and her performances. Although he is a great admirer of Redgrave’s work, the author does not hesitate to chide her—as he does for her 2003 stage appearance in Long Day’s Journey into Night. He also pauses for chapters about her loved ones—e.g., about her father and his death or her daughter, Natasha Richardson, and her death in 2009.
Richly detailed account of Redgrave’s career, though it’s missing the fireworks that some encounters with the author might have ignited.