Michael Scudamore Redgrave in Bristol, 20 March 1908.
Attended Clifton College, Bristol; Magdalene College, Cambridge, B.A. in
French, German and English 1930.
Married the actress Rachel Kempson, 1935, daughters: the actresses
Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave, son: the actor Corin Redgrave.
Modern language teacher, Cranleigh school; 1934–36—member
of Liverpool Repertory Theatre: professional debut in
; in the following years acted at the Old Vic, London, and with John
Gielgud's company; 1938—film debut in
The Lady Vanishes
; 1941–42—served in the Royal Navy; 1945—directed and
appeared in the stage play
Jacobowsky and the Colonel
; 1947—U.S. film debut in
Mourning Becomes Electra
; 1948—U.S. stage debut in
; 1957—formed his own production company; 1959—appeared in
his own adaptation of
The Aspern Papers
on London stage; continued to act in films and on stage, and also on
Best Actor, Cannes Festival, for
The Browning Version
, 1951. Commander, Order of the British Empire, 1952. Knighted, 1959.
21 March 1985.
The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock) (as Gilbert)
Stolen Life (Czinner) (as Alan Mackenzie); Climbing High (Reed) (as Nicholas Brooke)
The Stars Look Down (Reed) (as David Fenwick); A Window in London (Mason) (as Peter)
Kipps (Reed) (title role); Atlantic Ferry (Forde) (as Charles MacIver); Jeannie (French) (as Stanley Smith)
The Big Blockade (Frend) (as the Russian)
Thunder Rock (Boulting) (as Charleston)
The Way to the Stars (Asquith) (as Flight Lt. Archdale); Dead of Night (ep. dir by Cavalcanti) (as Maxwell Frere); A Diary for Timothy (Jennings) (as narrator)
The Captive Heart (Dearden) (as Karel Hasek); The Years Between (Bennett) (as Michael Wentworth)
The Man Within (Bennett) (as Carlyon); Mourning Becomes Electra (Nichols) (as Orin Mannon)
Secret behind the Door (Fritz Lang) (as Mark Lamphere)
The Browning Version (Asquith) (as Andrew Crocker-Harris)
The Importance of Being Earnest (Asquith) (as John Worthington)
The Green Scarf (O'Ferrall) (as Maitre Deliot)
The Sea Shall Not Have Them (Gilbert) (as Air Commodore Walty); Oh, Rosalinda! (Powell and Pressburger) (as Col. Eisenstein); The Night My Number Came Up (Norman) (as Air Marshal); The Dam Busters (Anderson) (as Barnes Wallis); Confidential Report (Welles) (as Trebitsch)
1984 (Anderson) (as O'Connor)
Time without Pity (Losey) (as David Graham); The Happy Road (Kelly) (as Gen. Medworth)
Vanishing Cornwall (Browning—doc) (as narrator); The Quiet American (Mankiewicz) (as Fowler); Law and Disorder (Crichton) (as Percy); The Immortal Land (Wright—doc)(as narrator); Behind the Mask (Hurst) (as Sir Anthony Benson Gray)
Shake Hands with the Devil (Anderson) (as Michael Collins); The Wreck of the Mary Deare (Anderson) (as Mr. Nyland)
No, My Darling Daughter (Box and Thomas) (as Sir Matthew Carr); The Innocents (Clayton) (as the Uncle)
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (Richardson) (as Governor)
Young Cassidy (Cardiff) (as W. B. Yeats); The Heroes of Telemark (Anthony Mann) (as Uncle); The Hill (Lumet) (as the M.O.)
Assignment K (Gielgud) (as Harris); Heidi (Delbert Mann—for TV)
Oh! What a Lovely War (Attenborough) (as Gen. Wilson); Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Ross) (as Headmaster)
David Copperfield (Delbert Mann—for TV) (as Peggotty); Goodbye Gemini (Gibson) (as the MP)
Connecting Rooms (Gollings) (as James Wallraven); The Go-Between (Losey) (as Leo as adult)
Nicholas and Alexandra (Schaffner) (as Grand Duke); The Last Target (Spenton-Foster) (as Erik Fritsch)
The Actor's Ways and Means , London, 1953; rev. ed., London, 1995.
The Mountebank's Tale (novel), London, 1958.
Mask or Face: Reflections in an Actor's Mirror , London, 1958.
The Aspern Papers (play), London, 1959.
In My Mind's I: An Actor's Autobiography , London, 1983.
"I Am Not a Camera," in Films and Filming (London), January-March 1955.
Findlater, Richard, Michael Redgrave, Actor , New York, 1956.
Redgrave, Deirdre, with Danaë Brook, To Be a Redgrave , London, 1982.
Kempson, Rachel, A Family and Its Fortunes , London, 1986.
Redgrave, Corin, Michael Redgrave: My Father , 1995.
Current Biography 1950 , New York, 1950.
De La Roche, C., "Master of His Destiny," in Films and Filming (London), December 1955.
Obituary in New York Times , 22 March 1985.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 27 March 1985.
Gussow, M., "Lynne Redgrave Portrays Emotional Emptiness in Royal Theater Family," in New York Times , 27 April 1993.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 3 December 1994.
Classic Images (Muscatine), September 1996.
* * *
Although he often gave the impression that he was only appearing on the screen under sufferance and would far rather have been treading the boards of the Old Vic, perhaps playing King Lear for Tyrone Guthrie or consorting in the dressing rooms with Dame Edith Evans, Sir Michael Redgrave had a long and varied career as a film actor, proving himself a plausible, if reluctant, leading man in his debut, the Hitchcock caper, The Lady Vanishes ; displaying a stiff upper lip in a succession of war films, notably Basil Dearden's The Captive Heart and Michael Anderson's The Dam Busters ; and even showing a knack for comedy as Jack Worthington in The Importance of Being Earnest .
"Earnest" Redgrave most certainly was: he generally acted briskly, with a bookish, schoolmasterly air, and was expert at conveying a sense of pained idealism. He was rather too intense to be classified with the "chaps," the tweed jacketed, pipe smoking squires/stars of 1950s British cinema, such as Jack Hawkins and Kenneth More. With Redgrave in front of the cameras, there is always the sense of a ferocious nervous energy ready to rip through the outward reserve. In Cavalcanti's segment of Dead of Night , for example, he plays the ventriloquist who becomes possessed by his own Charlie McCarthy of a dummy. Watching this performance is like seeing Mr. Chips give way to Hannibal Lecter. There is his brooding cameo as the Uncle in The Innocents , Jack Clayton's reworking of The Turn of the Screw ; there is his crusading reformer of the mines in The Stars Look Down , his cuckolded husband in The Browning Version , or his political zealot of Fame Is the Spur : these are all parts that confirm that a Redgrave fueled by a sense of moral righteousness is a terrifying thing.
Basil Wright and Humphrey Jennings, doyens of the culturally respectable Documentary Movement, were his contemporaries at Cambridge, where Redgrave edited a magazine, Venture , and was film critic for Granta . His academic/high culture background perhaps goes some way to explaining his disdain for the medium that brought him popular success: "I, who believed that in good acting there must be a continual stream of improvisation, began to think that this business of hitting chalk marks, adjusting one's gaze . . . and all the rest of the paraphernalia . . . was a very mechanical, second-best thing indeed."
As a dissenting British film actor, he is in good company. James Mason, Stewart Granger, and Dirk Bogarde have also used their autobiographies to denigrate the British pictures they "graced." Nevertheless, it is surprising that Redgrave, who worked with Fritz Lang and Orson Welles, Carol Reed and Anthony Asquith among others, should still contrive to scoff at the bastard celluloid muse. Yet the key to Redgrave's acting is his quite palpable sense of discomfort: he always seems ill at ease. He was never accepted by either the theater or the film "establishment." He did not scale the heights of the holy triumvirate, Olivier/Richardson/Gielgud, on the stage. Nor was he a fully fledged film star. A quintessential Redgrave screen performance is his depiction of Barnes Wallis, builder of the bouncing bomb, in The Dam Busters . Here, he plays a nervous, stooped inventor in a mackintosh, clearly uncomfortable in a world of hearty RAF officers and their Labradors. Just as Redgrave the actor never received his due, Barnes Wallis finds that his schemes run aground on the rocks of Home Office and Bomber Command indifference. He is the boffin as outsider, the serious Stanislavskian caught in a world of West End farce. In the end, his perverse and unshakable self-belief see him triumph against the odds.
It used to be commonplace to say that British film actors were "emotionally frozen" and/or "sexually repressed." Unlike their Methodist American counterparts, they did not "explode": it is hard to think of Redgrave or Trevor Howard sweating it out à la Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire . What these consummate British stars can do is to hint at the seething turmoil of social, sexual, and political anxiety behind the carapace. They are expert at "imploding." And few manage better to convey the anguish engendered by having strong feelings but being denied the outlet to express them than Redgrave senior. In his bristling, schoolmasterly awkwardness, he remains an infinitely more interesting actor than either his children or grandchildren.
—G. C. Macnab