Wednesday 7 December 2016

Corin Redgrave

Member of the acting dynasty who was as well-known for his left-wing views as for his roles, and who portrayed both Sir Roger Casement and Oscar Wilde

Published 11/04/2010 | 05:00

Corin Redgrave, the actor and playwright, who has died aged 70, was as well known for his militant politics as for his acting; although he was a committed Trotskyist, he could and often did perform as exactly the sort of pillar of the British Establishment who would be first before the firing squad come the Revolution.

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Yet there was nothing shallowly fashionable about his left-wing beliefs, which he shared with his elder sister Vanessa. Indeed, he was probably one of the few left-wing actors who had actually read Marx and Engels, and he had an impressive intellectual grasp of revolutionary theory.

Even so, Redgrave did not lack a sense of humour, and the depth of his dramatic characterisations suggested that his understanding of human nature ran deeper than the two-dimensional heroes and villains of the class war.

From the early 1970s, Redgrave was a prominent member of the Workers' Revolutionary Party (WRP), a militant organisation founded by Gerry Healy, who ended up being expelled from his own party in 1985 for "systematic debauchery" and "sexual assault" on a number of female WRP workers. The Redgraves stood by him and helped him to found the new Marxist Party.When Healy died, they secured him a plot in Highgate cemetery close to his hero Karl Marx.

Such publicity did not help Redgrave's career -- he claimed that his connections with the WRP got him blacklisted at the BBC for about 20 years. His "rehabilitation", as he called it, began with perestroika, when Marxism no longer seemed so potent a threat, and he was cast as the corrupt policeman Dixon in Jim Sheridan's Guildford Four film, In The Name of the Father (1994). He then played Andie MacDowell's kilt-wearing husband Hamish in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Redgrave brought the same aura of enigma, emotional control and privacy to his acting as to his political activities. He was a master at suggesting the pain and compromise of the disappointed idealist. Oscar Wilde and Sir Roger Casement were among his most haunting performances. He also wrote and performed a one-man play about Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and one-time Soviet spy. The perception he brought to this role, in which he explored the slow and painful process of dis-illusionment, suggested that, with the collapse of communism, Redgrave too might have had second thoughts about the Revolution.

Not a bit of it, though his ideological concerns became more humanitarian than insurrectionist.

Corin William Redgrave was born in London on July 16 1939, the only son of Michael Redgrave and the actress Rachel Kempson, and the brother of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave. His elder sister, Vanessa, was far closer to their father. She was groomed for the stage, while he was not -- and he felt envious and excluded. His parents were often absent on tour and when, as a six-year-old, he was taken to see Jacobowsky and the Colonel, he failed to recognise his father playing Jacobowsky. Two years later, when taken to Macbeth, he was determined not to make the same mistake again, and gave his father's secretary instructions to nudge him every time his father appeared; he ended up black and blue.

He fell so in love with the theatre that, aged 11, he learned the whole of Richard II by heart in six weeks.

Redgrave won a Classics scholarship to King's College, Cambridge. There he switched to English, taking a First, and hung out with Trevor Nunn and Ian McKellen, his stars in a Marlowe Society production of Henry IV.

After coming down from Cambridge, Redgrave joined the Royal Court as an assistant director, and in 1962 he married Deirdre Hamilton-Hill, a former model.

His film career began in 1964 when he played Brother Lucius in Crooks in Cloisters, and after making his TV debut in an episode of The Avengers, Redgrave appeared in The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1968), in Rest In Peace Uncle Fred and, as James Steerforth, in David Copperfield (both 1970). His classical career began to take shape in Trevor Nunn's acclaimed Roman cycle for the RSC at Stratford and the Aldwych (1972), when he played Octavius in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors.

But, at about the same time, Redgrave joined the WRP, a decision which began to cause conflict in his career and in his marriage. In her memoirs, Deirdre Hamilton-Hill described their household being "overrun by itinerant Marxists", with French cuisine banned on the ground of elitism. By the mid-1970s Redgrave had become a full-time political organiser for the WRP and even stood as a candidate in Lambeth in the 1979 general election. The party gained notoriety in the 1970s when police raided its training school, White Meadows, searching for weapons. The raid yielded five bullets and became a cause celebre, with the Redgraves claiming a frame-up and suing the Observer for libel.

They won the case, but had to pay the costs.

Following perestroika, Redgrave was constantly busy from the early 1990s, including the part of Crocker-Harris in Rattigan's The Browning Version in a Derby Playhouse production. The role of the dried-up classics master who is disarmed into a paroxysm of uncontrollable grief by an unexpected present from one of the boys had been immortalised on screen by Michael Redgrave.

In his moving and surprisingly humorous memoir of his father, Michael Redgrave: My Father, published in 1995, Corin Redgrave explained how he could not watch this scene on film without being reminded of the night in 1967 when, having blurted out the secret of his bisexuality to his son, Redgrave senior was convulsed by sobbing.

About the multi-generational phenomenon of his family's acting prowess, he said at the time: "I don't particularly like the word dynasty. I can't put an embargo on it. It's not something I think any member of my family is pleased with. I don't think there is any such thing as an acting gene, and no evidence that a talent for acting is inherited. It's much more to do with upbringing and models."

Corin Redgrave had a son and a daughter, the actress Gemma Redgrave, from his first marriage to Deirdre Hamilton-Hill; and two sons with Kika Markham, whom he married in 1985.

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