Sir Michael Redgrave/Photo © British Film Institute, Film Stills Archive
Editor’s Note: Author Donald Spoto is the author of twenty-five books, including bestselling biographies of Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, and Audrey Hepburn. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Fordham University. Spoto is married to the Danish school administrator Ole Flemming Larsen; they live in a quiet village, an hour’s drive from Copenhagen. Spoto’s latest biography is The Redgraves: A Family Epic. Word & Film asked him to pull together his list of essential Redgrave Family films, and here’s what he responded. (After reading through the list, check out the playlist at the bottom of this page to watch some of the trailers mentioned.)
“The Lady Vanishes” (1938)
While traveling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train. The trailer is featured first in the playlist below.
“Dead of Night” (1945)
A ventriloquist’s life and identity is taken over by his dummy.
“Mourning Becomes Electra” (1947)
Based on Eugene O’Neill’s updated version of the Oresteia. Redgrave is Orin (Orestes), and he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
“The Browning Version” (1951)
Forced to retire from a British public school, a disliked professor must confront his utter failures as a teacher, a husband, and a man.
“The Captive Heart” (1946)
In 1940, a concentration camp escapee assumes the identity of a dead British officer, only to become a prisoner of war.
“Déjà Vu” (1997)
L.A. shop owner Dana and Englishman Sean meet and fall in love at first sight, but Sean is married and Dana is set to marry her business partner, Alex.
A mod London photographer seems to find something very suspicious in the shots he has taken of a mysterious beauty and her apparent lover in a desolate park.
A biopic of Isadora Duncan, the free-spirited 1920s dancer who changed people’s ideas about ballet. Vanessa received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
“Mary, Queen of Scots” (1971)
Mary Stuart, who was named Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old, is the last Roman Catholic ruler of Scotland; her cousin is Elizabeth Tudor, the English queen and Mary’s arch adversary. Vanessa received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
At the behest of an old and dear friend, playwright Lillian Hellman undertakes a dangerous mission to smuggle funds into Nazi Germany. Vanessa won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
A fictional account of the real-life, eleven-day, never-explained 1926 disappearance of famed murder-mystery writer Agatha Christie.
During World War II, the United States set up army bases in Great Britain as part of the war effort. Against their proper sensibilities, many of the Brits don’t much like the brash Yanks, especially when it comes to the GIs making advances on the lonely British girls, some whose boyfriends are also away for the war.
“The Bostonians” (1984)
A nineteenth-century Boston woman dedicated to the suffrage movement meets a faith healer’s daughter; a Mississippi lawyer also has eyes for the young woman. Vanessa received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
“Prick Up Your Ears” (1987)
This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton.
The story of Oscar Wilde — genius, poet, playwright, and the “first modern man.”
“Mrs. Dalloway” (1997)
In 1923 London, socialite Clarissa Dalloway’s well-planned party is overshadowed by the return of an old suitor she had known thirty-three years earlier.
“If These Walls Could Talk 2” (2000)
A trio of stories about lesbian couples in three different decades.
“A Man for All Seasons” (1966)
The story of Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII when the king rejected the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarry.
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994)
Over the course of five social occasions, a committed bachelor must consider the notion that he may have discovered love.
“Georgy Girl” (1966)
A homely but vivacious young woman dodges the amorous attentions of her father’s middle-aged employer. Lynn received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Pianist David Helfgott, driven by his father and teachers, has a breakdown. Years later he returns to the piano, to popular if not critical acclaim.
“Gods and Monsters” (1998)
The last days of “Frankenstein” director James Whale are explored. Lynn received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
“The White Countess” (2005)
Set in 1930s Shanghai, where a blind American diplomat develops a curious relationship with a young Russian refugee who works odd — and sometimes illicit — jobs to support members of her dead husband’s aristocratic family.
A drama exploring the romantic past and emotional present of Ann Grant and her daughters, Constance and Nina. As Ann lies dying, she remembers, and is moved to convey to her daughters, the defining moments in her life fifty years prior, when she was a young woman. Harris is the man Ann loves in the 1950s and never forgets.