Darling of the West End stage as well as the Hollywood screen, Academy Award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave knows more about the business than most.
Daughter of actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, and sibling of Corin and Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa was born in 1937. Her birth was announced by Laurence Olivier during a performance of Hamlet at the Old Vic. He was starring alongside her father in the play at the time. She studied drama at London's Central School of Music and Dance. Her screen debut was in 1958's 'Behind the Mask', alongside her father. After its poor reception, Vanessa concentrated on stage work.
She established herself as a key player in the venerable Stratford-Upon-Avon Theatre Company. Performing widely in Shakespeare, she performed with the period's greatest names, including Anthony Richardson, a director and soon to be husband. In 1966, Redgrave returned to the screen as Anne Boleyn in 'A Man For All Seasons', and starred in 'Morgan', for which she won best actress at Cannes. Later that year, she also appeared in the cult 'Blow-Up', Michelangelo Antonioni's first English language film.
After appearing in 'Red and Blue' and 'The Sailor From Gibraltar' in 1967, both films by her husband, she starred in 'Camelot' as Guinevere, to Richard Harris' King Arthur. Divorcing Richardson on grounds of adultery, she was notable in 'Isadora', a biopic of the dancer, Isadora Duncan, winning another best actress gong at Cannes.
Films such as 'The Trojan Women' and 'Mary Queen of Scots' established her status as a portrayer of complex female heroines.
Redgrave gained notoriety for the Pro-Palestinian speech she gave, upon receiving the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1977 for 'Julia'. Also a vocal supporter of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, her views cost her work in the US. Some Jewish viewers objected, in the light of her 'anti-Zionist views', to her being cast as the Nazi death camp violinist in her TV debut, 'Playing for Time' in 1980, but this didn't prevent her from winning an Emmy for the role.
Commenting on Redgrave's skills on the stage and screen, actress Jane Fonda wrote in her 2005 autobiography: "There is a quality about Vanessa that makes me feel as if she resides in a netherworld of mystery that eludes the rest of us mortals. Her voice seems to come from some deep place that knows all suffering and all secrets. Watching her work is like seeing through layers of glass, each layer painted in mythic watercolor images, layer after layer, until it becomes dark – but even then you know you haven't come to the bottom of it."
Since the mid 1980s, Redgrave has been a respected character actress, in films such as 'Second Serve', 'The Bostonians' and 'Howard's End'. She appeared in 1997's 'Wilde' and the 1998 blockbuster, 'Deep Impact'. In 2004, she joined the cast of 'Nip/Tuck', in which she played Dr Erica Noughton. Her daughter in the show was played by her real-life daughter Joley Richardson.
Other films Redgrave has appeared in over the last decade include 'Venus' and 'Atonement'. 2009 proved to be a difficult year for the actress. Within the space of a few months, she lost two of her siblings and her daughter Natasha Richardson, who tragically passed away after a skiing accident.
She appeared in the TV version of 'The Day of the Triffids' with her daughter Joely and signed up to play Eleanor of Aquitaine in Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood'. However, she pulled out as filming started shortly after her daughter's death. Redgrave had a small role in 'Eva', a Romanian drama film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2010. She also had bit parts in 'Miral', 'Animals United' and 'The Whistleblower'.
In 2011, she appeared in 'Coriolanus', an adaptation of Shakespeare's play marking Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut. She also reprised her role as a powerful woman, playing Elizabeth I in 'Anonymous'.
On 13 November 2011, Redgrave was honoured by the Oscars Academy for her 50 years spent in the industry, during which she has made over 70 films. This is the first time that the academy has handed out such an honour to a European actress. Sir David Hare, who hosted the event, said: "Wherever you go in the world, people know and admire Vanessa Redgrave. There are not many consistently brilliant 50-year careers in the history of cinema, but hers is one of them.
Her latest roles include 'The Butler' (2013) and 'Foxcatcher' (2014).