Great Britons of Stage and Screen: in conversation
Barbara Roisman Cooper
Rowman & Littlefield
The title makes a grand claim for its contents, but with a cast list which includes John Mills, Eileen Atkins, Joan Collins, Stephen Fry, Ben Kingsley, Felicity Kendal, Jeremy Irons and plenty more, it follows through on its promise.
If there are any subjects of this book of whom you have not heard, you will almost certainly be familiar with some of their work or with some of those with whom they have starred or whom they have married—in fact, some of the interviewees have even shared spouses.
The book is a collection of face-to-face interviews with actors whose work covers a large part of the twentieth century, some of whom are no longer with us and some still working, overall giving a very interesting overview of acting for stage and screen—all of the subjects have done both—on both sides of the Atlantic, even though they all started off in the UK.
The author's preface traces the genesis of the book to 2007 at the unveiling of Olivier's statue outside the National Theatre, but this is clearly not the whole story—John Mills died two years earlier and his chapter begins with a reference to his recent ninetieth birthday, which was in 1998. It would appear that this experienced interviewer has quite an archive, so perhaps there will one day be a sequel.
Each interview begins with some brief background information then the interview itself written as a dialogue, finishing with a selection of the subject's credits and awards. The interviews focus mainly on the interviewee's career and working methods, throwing up some interesting contrasts in process and opinions on acting, directors and the theatre and film industries.
The questions are precise and very well researched, allowing the interviewer to probe her subjects in some depth. In fact, a few of those featured voiced surprise at some piece of information that she had brought up, especially Sinéad Cusack, who said, "that's extraordinary that you would know that! It's a family reference."
Taken individually, these interviews take you right into British or American theatre, film or TV at a particular period; as a whole, the book gives a fascinating overview of the acting profession over eight decades told by the actors themselves, or at least those whose hard work and dedication allowed them to forge a long-term career in the industry.
Reviewer: David Chadderton