The more I watch Vanessa Redgrave, the more I “get” her as an actress. The thing is, I wouldn’t even say I am a huge fan of her or her performances. As mentioned in my previous post, Mary, Queen of Scots was a disappointment. And yet, that famous, “glowing” presence of hers, that charisma and radiance that she naturally possesses just makes me like her as a performer, even if her actual films and performances aren’t that great. Also, this unique presence of hers helps to enhance the type of characters she usually plays – free-spirited, mysterious and strong characters that aren’t necessarily meant to be understood (probably a reflection of her real life personality too). Think the mysterious Julia, or the free-spirited Isadora Duncan, or Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians.
Vanessa was fairly young when she made Morgan – this is actually one of her first few films and she received her first Oscar nomination for this. She also won the prestigious best actress award at Cannes, which is a bit much to me (more on that later). I just think it is interesting that this role of her is considered to be merely a filler nod by so many bloggers today, considering the amount of recognition she actually received. However, I don’t think anyone stood a chance against Elizabeth Taylor in winning the Oscar that year anyway.
Morgan is definitely a hit or miss kind of film. It is very experimental and “free”, and I can see why some go crazy over it. The story follows Morgan, a man with a terrible mental illness who goes all out to prevent his ex-wife from remarrying, even if it means destroying her life. Redgrave plays Leonie Delt, the ex-wife in question. The film is often frustrating to watch for me, and the main character is just a downright awful person, mental illness or not. There isn’t a proper story, it is just Morgan harassing Leonie from the beginning to end, with some not very subtle references to socialism.
Redgrave’s nomination is interesting, considering that Leonie is really a supporting character in this film. She is not even the main focus, and when you see her, it is more of her reactions to Morgan’s shenanigans. In my opinion – Leonie isn’t a well-written character. I get that the writer may have been trying to create some “complex feelings”, especially with regards to her dilemma about whether she loves Morgan or not. However, it comes off as weird, confusing and not very well thought out. Other than this dilemma, there is nothing else about the character that I found particularly noteworthy, other than the fact that she is a weird free-spirit.
Strangely, I think Redgrave pulls it off well. To me, she sells the Leonie’s confusion about her feelings towards Morgan well enough. The scenes of annoyance and frustration are well-played, but there are also very subtle scenes where she suggests she still has feelings for him. It is all very confusing and weird – there are times where I wonder why Leonie still puts up with Morgan and don’t have him locked up instead, but Redgrave portrays these moments of confusion well, even if I don’t understand it.
Her “weird” and free-spirited scenes are also strange and don’t make sense, especially when she crazily encourages her new lover to fight with Morgan, or when she is singing and dancing in the car. With any other actress it would have been weird and stupid, but Redgrave’s charm saves it, injecting energy and making the weirdness of these scenes work.
Unfortunately, that is all there is to Redgrave’s performance here. It is not a well thought-out character, and she is definitely a supporting player in this film. She is a 3/5 in my book but unlike other performances that I have given the same rating, I actually have positive feelings for this one.