The Redgraves

When I heard that a book had come out about the Redgrave family, my curiosity was piqued. The Redgraves are interesting people, and an interesting book could certainly be written about them. However, judging from the extract that appears in the Daily Mail, Tim Adler’s House of Redgrave is shallow and mean-spirited. Here is a typical passage:

    Never a shrinking violet, Vanessa Redgrave knew exactly what to do when she found a listening device in an electrical socket at her home. She called a Press conference.

    It was common knowledge, she told the world in thrilling theatrical tones, that the internal security service MI5 had been bugging her conversations since she’d been a member of a Trotskyist organisation called the Workers Revolutionary Party.

    Well, she wasn’t going to stand for it. So she was making a formal complaint to the European Commission, claiming that MI5 had violated her human rights.

    Unfortunately, her grand gesture fell flat. Not only did the EU maintain that bugging radicals such as Vanessa Redgrave was ‘necessary in a democratic society’ — but it turned out that the bug had nothing to do with MI5 in the first place. It had been planted by a rival Left-wing faction.

    Anyone else might have been utterly humiliated at making a fool of themselves[sic], but not Vanessa. As her daughter Natasha once said, it never bothered her that she wasn’t liked — because being disliked gives her enormous freedom.

Now, in what sense did Vanessa Redgrave make a fool of herself? It was reasonable for her to assume that MI5 planted the bug. (MI5 does that sort of thing.) Of course, one could argue about whether this was worth holding a press conference, but there was nothing inherently foolish about that. Moreover, Adler seems strangely untroubled by the EU’s Orwellian argument that it’s necessary for a government to spy on its own citizens in a “democratic society”. As for the bug being placed by a rival left group, well, that’s just another example of the mindless sectarianism of the British Left. If Vanessa Redgrave is to be criticized for anything, it’s that she bought into that mindless sectarianism herself, though that’s not what concerns Adler here.

Elsewhere, Adler writes about Vanessa’s estrangement from her husband, Tony Richardson:

    Richardson’s betrayal, however, was hard to bear. Despite her best intentions, she felt as if she and her husband were separated by a wall of glass, each of them mouthing words the other was unable to understand.

Uh, and how does Adler know that she felt this way? He doesn’t say.

To me, an interesting question is why were Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, two intelligent people, attracted to such an obvious crank as Gerry Healy? Adler doesn’t even try to answer that.

An interesting book about the Redgraves remains to be written.

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