Corin Redgrave, 70

Behind the scenes, actor Corin Redgrave, 70, play leftist political role

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Corin Redgrave, 70, the scion of a powerful acting dynasty who shone equally in light comedy and Shakespearean tragedy and who, despite excelling as authority figures, was a committed Marxist, died April 6 at his home in London.

No cause of death was reported, but Mr. Redgrave had several health setbacks in recent years, including a heart attack in 2005 soon after a demanding run as King Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He starred on the London stage last year in "Trumbo," about blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

The Redgraves had been a leading British thespian family for generations, stretching well back into the 19th century. Tall and imposing like most of his relatives, Mr. Redgrave was the son of actor Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson and the brother of actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave. Corin Redgrave's daughter Jemma became an actress, as did his nieces Joely Richardson and Natasha Richardson, who died last year from injuries in a skiing accident.

Like his sister Vanessa, Mr. Redgrave was a social activist in causes of the hard left. His political activism also led to the collapse of his first marriage, to model Deirdre Hamilton-Hill, who later complained that her home was "overrun by itinerant Marxists."

If politics consumed a great deal of his energies, Mr. Redgrave nonetheless enjoyed a distinguished career on stage, screen and television.

On-screen, he appeared in "A Man for All Seasons" (1966) as a young Protestant suitor of Sir Thomas More's daughter and later had meatier roles as the Duke of Cornwall in "Excalibur" (1981), a corrupt police inspector in the IRA drama "In the Name of the Father" (1993), the snobbish Sir Walter Elliot in "Persuasion" (1995) and a pompous, kilt-wearing Scottish nobleman engaged to Andie MacDowell in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994).

Mr. Redgrave made his professional London stage debut as Lysander in a 1962 production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and then appeared in dozens of classic and contemporary works. He shared the stage many times with his sister Vanessa, playing lovers in Noel Coward's comedy "A Song at Twilight" and siblings in Anton Chekhov's drama "The Cherry Orchard." With Vanessa, Mr. Redgrave started the Moving Theatre Company in the early 1990s with a focus on what they considered politically relevant shows.

It was Vanessa Redgrave who exhumed the long-forgotten Tennessee Williams drama "Not About Nightingales" and suggested her brother as the sadistic and lecherous warden Boss Whalen. He played the role in London before the 1999 Broadway production under Trevor Nunn's direction, for whch Mr. Redgrave received a Tony Award nomination.

His performance, wrote New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, "tempers Whalen's bilious cruelty and sinister, good-old-boy glee with a sweaty, humanizing anxiety."

Mr. Redgrave said he enjoyed playing mavericks in work that accented themes of social justice, noting his portrayal of Benedict Arnold in Richard Nelson's drama "The General From America." He played the traitorous Revolutionary War general off-Broadway in 2002.

"What's striking in Richard's play is this quest for certainty: This is right and that is wrong, this is good and this evil, the attempt to devise some sort of moral compass that is due north, and march off confidently," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Well, the world is a much more complex place than that."

Corin William Redgrave was born July 16, 1939, in London, and was the middle child -- after Vanessa and before Lynn. A decade after his father's death in 1985, he wrote a sympathetic memoir of Michael Redgrave that explored his complicated private life. He recalled bursting into tears when his father told him, "I think I ought to tell you, that I am, to say the least of it, bisexual."

Mr. Redgrave attended King's College, Cambridge, then launched his stage career. He made his Broadway debut in 1963 as an aristocratic military pilot in Arnold Wesker's "Chips With Everything," a comedy about the British class system.

In addition to his sporadic film work, Mr. Redgrave was a frequent presence on television. He appeared in many British-made miniseries, notably as the patriarch Old Jolyon Forsyte in "The Forsyte Saga," which aired in the United States on public television in 2002.

He had two children, Jemma and Luke, from his first marriage. In 1985, he married actress Kika Markham, with whom he had two sons, Arden and Harvey. Besides his wife and children, survivors include his sisters.

In recent years, Mr. Redgrave was an impassioned defender of Palestinian rights and the shuttering of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He and Vanessa Redgrave formed the Peace and Progress Party, which called for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and the cancellation of debt in the developing world. He told the Observer newspaper in 2004 that he started his party from the belief that "human rights could become an organizing principle for opposition."

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