Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Frears wow audience at Chiswick Cinema 

Image above: Stephen Frears and Vanessa Redgrave at Chiswick Cinema

“I would not have been a film director without Karel Reisz” – Stephen Frears

Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Frears gave a question and answer session after the screening of Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment on Sunday (26 March), the last in the season of four films shown for the Karel Reisz retrospective season at Chiswick Cinema.

The four films have been about as different as they possibly could have been: documentary We are the Lambeth Boys, his breakthrough ‘kitchen sink’ northern drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, psycho thriller Night Must Fall, and a typical 1960s flight of fancy Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment.

Stephen Frears (BAFTA and Emmy award winning director of My Beautiful Launderette, Dangerous Liasons and The Queen, amongst others), worked as Karel Reisz’s assistant on this film. Not as assistant director, but his assistant.

“I wouldn’t have been a film director without Karel. I was working at the Royal Court, the play collapsed and Karel said “Come and work for me”.

“The assistant runs the floor, gets the actors out of the dressing room and on set on time.”

Image above: Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, screened at Chiswick Cinema

Vanessa Redgrave’s favourite film

For Vanessa Redgrave it was her first film, she said.  (Although she did make one with her father in 1958). She was stunningly beautiful as a young woman, born into the business as the daughter of actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson and married to director Tony Richardson.

“This was the first film I made and it came as a surprise. I was at a Royal Court party and I’d done my hair and makeup and that’s when Karel met me and asked me to do it. It was a total surprise.”

In her career spanning more than six decades she has picked up an Academy award, a Tony and two Emmy awards. She has starred in more than 35 productions in London’s West End and on Broadway. Her films include period dramas The Bostonians and Howard’s End, A Man for All Seasons, Blow Up, Camelot, The Devils and Murder on the Orient Express, amongst others.

Asked whether there was any film she held in particular affection, she said:

“This one. Absolutely this one. And Isadora, the second one I made with Karel. And The Charge of the Light Brigade which I made with Tony Richardson.

“It was special because Karel was so special. It’s an extraordinary, wonderful, unique film.”

Images above: Stphen Frears, Vanessa Redgrave and Phillip Bergson

“It must seem very odd seeing this now”

Karel escaped Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia during the Second World War as a child, on the same Kindertransport as Lord Alf Dubs.

“Karel really taught me how to live” said Stephen Frears. “He had such a level of tragedy in his life, yet he dealt with it.”

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment is an exploration of mental health, which, Stephen told the audience, was originally intended to be a TV drama.

“Karel said ‘Let’s make it a comedy’.

“It must seem very odd seeing this now. It is very much of its time but then it just fitted right in.”

An extra, surreal titbit of information was that Groucho Marx happened to walk past while they were filming in Mayfair.

Images above: David Warner as Morgan in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment

It has that crazy ’60s feel of how you might imagine an acid trip to be. The key character Morgan, (played by David Warner), keeps seeing visions of wild animals, pretends to be a gorilla and has a stuffed gorilla in his artist’s studio. At one point he is zooming around London on a moped in a gorilla suit which has caught fire and billows smoke as he drives along.

His wife Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave) wants rid of him and divorces him, but he refuses to be divorced. In truth she is almost as detached from the real world as he is, but she has money, her upper-class parents drive her around in a Rolls Royce, so she has no real need to focus on anything as mundane as earning a living.

He is a working class socialist, who tries to rile her by daubing / shaving / carving a hammer and sickle on various of her possessions.

Image above: David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave as Morgan and Leonie

This led to some inspired casting. Irene Handl plays his mother, Arthur Mullard is a professional wrestler friend of his mother’s and Bernard Bresslaw plays a particularly dopey policeman. If you nodded off for a moment and woke up again, you would think you were watching a Carry On film.

Various members of the audience commented on wittiness of the script – it still got a lot of laughs nearly sixty years on – and the energy of it, which came over in spades.

Image above: Vanessa Redgrave as Leonie, in Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment

“I thought I looked beautiful”

Vanessa Redgrave at 86 is as sharp as ever, waspish even, as she sparred with Stephen Frears and challenged the audience.

One man had the temerity to ask her: “What’s it like seeing yourself 60 years ago in such clarity?”

“In such beauty you mean”, she shot back. “You’re very British. Clarity means you can be heard. You mean beautiful. I thought I looked beautiful.”

Host Phillip Bergson asked her if she watched the rushes as they were filming.

“I’ve never asked to see rushes unless the director wanted it”, she said, adding rather coyly:  “I was married to a film director, Tony Richardson. Tony said you must always do what the director said. Good advice.”

Stephen: “Not that you took any notice.”
Vanessa: “You directed me once. I wasn’t a pest, was I?”
Stephen: “You were adorable.”

He also gave one of the audience short shrift. Asked about the atmosphere on set he said they were just doing a day’s work.

“You want it all to be magical but it was just a day’s work.”

Just doing a day’s work or not, the film and the Q&A after made for a very entertaining evening. Congratulations to Chris Parker at Chiswick Cinema for organising the season.

Image above: Audience hanging on every word of the great film star; Stephen Frears with Chris Parker, marketing manager of Chiswick Cinema, in the bar afterwards

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Melvyn Bragg introduces the Karel Reisz retrospective at Chiswick Cinema

See also: “The National Film Theatre of Chiswick”

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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