Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Redgraves: A Family Epic by Donald Spoto (2012)

I think whoever chose to call this book "an epic" was grossly overstating the lives of the Redgraves.  They were many things - all of them incredibly strong and good actors, some of them activists or adulterers (or both),  one of them a closted homosexual.  But livers of an epic life, I don't think Spoto successfully made that case.  The Redgraves: Interesting Lives.  The Redgraves: All the World's A Stage.  But not "an epic."  Do actors lead epic lives?

Still, Spato's book was strong; I knew nothing about the Redgraves other than some of their names (and, of course, Vanessa Redgrave is in my favorite movie, Howards End).  Michael Redgrave's story was particularly interesting - his marriage to fellow actor Rachel, who bore him three children, but also his gay side, his same sex love affairs and relationships.  I think you would want to say after reading this, if Michael Redgrave had lived today, he could have been in a long term same sex relationship rather than closeted relationships and a wife to hide that; but I'm not so sure.  For starters, was Rachel a beard, or an equal partner in an unusual relationship (she had love affairs too).  If he were alive and acting today, would he be able to be openly gay (perhaps, perhaps not).  Maybe instead of a sad thing, Michael and Rachel's love life was revolutionary; maybe they were happy the way things were (they never divorced) and it makes a better narrative - or at least a 21st century Puritan narrative - to point out some of the unhappier moments.  Whose relationships are completely happy or unhappy anyway?

Tony Richardson, closeted homsexual too.  He sounds like a douchebag though.

The book made me want to see The Lady Vanishes, which we did.  Michael Redgrave is a hoot.

The Redgraves: A Family EpicThe Redgraves: A Family Epic by Donald Spoto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Redgrave family were quite interesting and talented, but they certainly did not live epic lives. Spato's book was strong though; what I knew about this acting family could have fit into a thimble before reading his book. It drags in some spots; and the last 30 years or so seemed scrunched together. Michael Redgrave and his wife Rachel's unconventional marriage was the most fascinating part of the book; he a bisexual who carried on numerous affairs with men, she with her own short and long-term love affairs. You can approach this with two minds - one being how sad, but the other, how revolutionary and radical. As they never divorced, something worked for them, which I think is surprising at the very least (you might think they'd be divorced today, in these freer and more modern times, but then look at the Clintons). At some level, you take away that Tolstoyian question: what is a happy family anyway?

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