It's true that Lynn Redgrave, who died last night and had been fighting breast cancer, was one of those Redgraves
. But she had a commoner's touch. She acted everywhere -- the stage, the screen, alongside Jackie Mason
It didn't seem to matter, although she was never as shamelessly
indiscriminate a performer as, say, her fellow Brit Michael Caine.
There is, for instance, no "Jaws 4: The Revenge" on her resume.
Although, you might recall "The Happy Hooker
which matches Jaws" for accidental entertainment. And for my entire
childhood, she was the jubilant essence of Weight Watchers -- "This is living
she sang -- lending a touch of class, opera, and theatricality to
what seemed, at least to me, to be an American headache.
She probably got that job because of "Georgy Girl
the movie that made her the world's most famous homely girl in 1967.
She was hardly fat. She was, in fact, built like the average woman.
(Her height, bone structure, and lilting speaking voice would have made
her an obvious candidate to play Julia Child
had Meryl Streep never been invented.) It's obvious what was so
instantly captivating about Redgrave: She was charmingly charismatic.
She and her older sister, Vanessa, both got Oscar nominations for that
year (they lost to Elizabeth Taylor
and the striking thing about their simultaneous success was that
Vanessa seemed so cool, serious, and deliberate. Lynn was the one you
wanted to accompany shopping for records and knee-highs
. Vanessa was the sister you wanted to rescue from psychos with your awesome camera skills
the mid-1970s, Lynn was doing most of her great work on the stage
(thanks a lot, "Happy Hooker"). But when she was in movies or on TV, it
was clear she was the sort of performer who got better with age. She
brought her wisdom to bear on even the least promising projects. Take "Chicken Soup
," an ABC sitcom from 1989 with her as an Irish-Catholic dating Jackie "I'm an old Jew
Mason. She didn't try to out-funny him. She simply outclassed him,
which was a key to their weird chemistry -- that, and the fact that he
appeared to like that she seemed a foot taller than he was. (It came on
after "Roseanne" and pretty much had the same living room.)
was only in the late 1990s that Redgrave made a major commitment to
film work, which defies the usual direction for a middle-aged actress.
There were a few grannies and doddering dames. But at least twice
during this period, she was fantastic: once as James Whale's
hilariously sour Hungarian maid in "Gods and Monsters" (1998) then in
David Cronenberg's best, least-seen film, "Spider
where she played the heartless caretaker of a halfway house that Ralph
Fiennes's schizophrenic called home. At the movies, it's arguable that
she was even better in the latter half of her career than she was in
Redgrave's brother, Corin, died last month and last year her niece Natasha Richardson
died in a ski accident. It's sad news for the family, but the acting in heaven just got that much better.
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is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
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Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
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Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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