Socialist Worker

Corin Redgrave (1939-2010)

by SabSagall
Issue No. 2197

Corin Redgrave, as both artist and revolutionary, was an exceptional person. Born into a well-established middle class family, the son of actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, he was the scion of Britain’s most famous theatrical dynasty, the middle child of its third generation.

Yet he developed in early adulthood a radicalism that remained with him throughout his life.

Not many individuals from such a distinguished background identify with the exploited and oppressed, devoting a large chunk of their lives to the cause of their liberation.

Nothing in Corin’s early life could have foreseen his future path. Like most children of illustrious parents, he followed a well-trodden career path – a London prep school, Westminster public school, and a first in classics at Cambridge.

He first developed an interest in radical politics, together with his sister Vanessa, in the early 1960s. At that time, he also made a bright start on the London stage, appearing, for example, in 1962 in Arnold Wesker’s Chips With Everything, a play about the absorption of working class rebels into the upper echelons of the social hierarchy.

In the course of the 1960s and early 1970s, his acting career progressed alongside his political commitment. He was also maturing as a Shakespearian actor, performing at Stratford in 1972 in The Comedy of Errors. On the one hand, he was following in his father’s footsteps, on the other he was developing his own individual dramatic style and voice.

In 1971, he joined the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. Although the SWP couldn't accept the WRP's version of Marxism, this should not obscure the fact that from 1974 to 1989 Corin devoted most of his time to the cause of revolutionary politics, allowing his commitment to take precedence over a successful acting career.

Like many of his generation, Corin was a child of the 1960s, heady days of struggle and idealism when dreams of another world seemed a perfect fit with the events and campaigns the world over: the US civil rights movement, the international student movement, the anti-Vietnam War campaign and the French general strike.

It was especially to Corin’s credit that he remained steadfastly dedicated to his politics throughout the 1980s, a dark decade of defeat and demoralisation. Corin was also a great champion of the Palestinian cause, and of human rights everywhere.

Towards the late 1980s, his acting career blossomed and he performed a series of memorable roles. Around that time, he, together with Kika Markham, his wife and soulmate, and sister Vanessa, founded the Moving Theatre Company, a troupe that sought to put on international plays with a social content. Corin frequently chose to play powerful characters on the edge, former ‘insiders’ on whom history or society had turned its back.

It seemed that Corin was now, through his acting, also expressing his political vision, his own personal “insider turned outsider” role.

In 1999, he played Sir Hugo Latymer in Noel Coward’s A Song at Twilight, a play about a repressed homosexual. Possibly the summit of his achievement was his 2004 portrayal of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a performance full of passion and insight. He conveyed powerfully the tragedy of the aged king brought up in a society based on close kinship ties and a communal cohesion undermined by the cruel, selfish individualism of the emerging market capitalism.

In 2005, Corin appeared in a one-man show about Kenneth Tynan, the eminent critic and writer, a respected arts figure whose political and sexual radicalism made him a thorn in the side of the establishment. After a heart attack that year, he valiantly resumed working, performing his last stage role, in 2009, as Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood black-listed writer. Corin was a man of great charm and personal warmth, belying the stereotypical image of a “hardened Trotskyist”.

Article information

Fri 9 Apr 2010, 17:52 BST
Issue No. 2197
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