Joyce Redman: Actress best known as the lusty servant in 'Tom Jones'
After a close escape from a wartime bomb she felt 'an almost supernatural confidence'
Friday 18 May 2012
Joyce Redman was a talented and versatile actress who was equally at ease on stage, in films or on the small screen, during a career that lasted more than 60 years. She will probably be best remembered for her role in Tom Jones (1963), Tony Richardson's adaptation of the novel by Henry Fielding. Here she played the servant Mrs Waters, opposite Albert Finney in the title role. In a deliciously sensual three-minute scene of amour gourmand, the pair sit facing one another at a tavern table and devour their way through a foreplay of soup, lobster, chicken, oysters and fruit before scuttling off to bed.
Finney later said about the scene, "Joyce and I had done theatre together. We just played it for fun. It was filmed early in the morning and it took hours. They kept bringing more food – trying us out on different dishes. They'd say things like, 'Bring more oysters. She's very good on oysters.' We weren't sure the audience would get it at all. It seems they did." The film won Oscars for best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Score. Redman was nominated as Best Supporting Actress.
Joyce Redman was born in 1915 in Newcastle in Ireland to a Protestant Anglo-Irish family. One of four girls, she grew up on Bartra Island in Killala Bay, Co Mayo. Following private home education and training at Rada, she made her first professional appearance as First Tiger Lily in 1935 at London's Playhouse in Alice Through theLooking Glass. Audiences would have been charmed by the young actress, with her diminutive size, pale skin and bright red hair.
Her film debut was in One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, in which she played Jet van Dieren. Despite being made as a morale-boosting propaganda film, it was praised for its artistic values, the critic Edward Dolan describing it as among the "best of British films of the era".
During the war she had a close escape when, on her way back from the theatre, a flying bomb exploded nearby. Her initial reaction to surviving the blast was a feeling of what she called "an almost supernatural confidence". She did not experience the shock until several days later, when she collapsed, a combination of the incident and the stress of opening performances in Peer Gynt (as Solveig) and Arms and the Man (as Louka) within the same week.
Redman's New York debut came in 1946 in Henry IV Part 2 as Doll Tearsheet, the prostitute who frequents the Boar's Head Tavern. She followed this two years later with the role of Anne Boleyn opposite Rex Harrison's Henry in Maxwell Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days. The New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson remarked admiringly that she "...scorches the pages of the drama, to the point where the play is not a good fire insurance risk."
For the next decade she divided her time between Broadway and London. Then, when the National Theatre Company was formed by Laurence Olivier in 1963, Redman played at the Old Vic and toured with the company to Moscow and Berlin.
Following the tremendous success of Tom Jones, and emphasising her dedication to her family, she recalled, "After Tom Jones I was offered all kinds of things, and I could have named my price, but the children were still pretty young, and no way could I leave them."
She received a second Oscar nomination for her role as Emilia, servant of Desdemona, in the film version of Othello (1965), starring Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the same production. Also made for the cinema, Prudence and the Pill (1968) saw her in an entertaining farce about marriage and infidelity starring David Niven and Deborah Kerr. Redman's character becomes pregnant after a deliberate switch of contraceptive pills for aspirin.
In 1979 Redman returned to the stage for Tolstoy's The Fruits of Enlightenment, playing the wife of the landowner, opposite Ralph Richardson. Five years later she was in Clandestine Marriage, the first theatre production from Anthony Quayle's innovative touring Compass Theatre Company. She continued with the same company, which produced a number of other plays, including Dandy Dick, Saint Joan and King Lear.
On television Redman played Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair and featured in several episodes of Ruth Rendell Mysteries and in Tales of the Unexpected. Her television movie roles included The Merry Wives of Windsor (1955), The Seven Dials Mystery (1981) and Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness (1995).
Her last role was in 2001 for the TV movie Victoria & Albert, in which she played the elderly monarch and her son Crispin Redman played Mr Anson. Her niece, Amanda Redman, stars in the BBC crime series New Tricks.
Joyce Redman, actress: born Newcastle, Co Mayo, Republic of Ireland 9 December 1915; married 1949 Charles Wynne-Roberts (three children); died Kent 10 May 2012.
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