Geraldine McEwan

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Geraldine McEwan
Born Geraldine McKeown
(1932-05-09)9 May 1932
Old Windsor, Berkshire, England
Died 30 January 2015(2015-01-30) (aged 82)
Hammersmith, London, England
Cause of death
Stroke
Occupation Actor
Years active 1946–2011
Spouse(s) Hugh Cruttwell (1953–2002, his death)
Children 1 son, 1 daughter
Website
geraldinemcewan.com

Geraldine McEwan (9 May 1932 – 30 January 2015) was an English actress who had a long career in theatre, television and film.

McEwan was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1998 for her performance in The Chairs. She won a BAFTA Award for her performance in the television serial Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990). From 2004 to 2009 she appeared as Miss Marple, the Agatha Christie sleuth, for the series Marple.

Michael Coveney described her, in a tribute article, as "a great comic stylist, with a syrupy, seductive voice and a forthright, sparkling manner."[1]

Early life[edit]

She was born Geraldine McKeown on 9 May 1932 in Old Windsor, Berkshire, England, to Donald and Norah (née Burns) McKeown. She had Irish antecedents; her maternal grandfather came from Kilkenny while her paternal grandfather came from Belfast.[2] Her father, a printers' compositor, ran the Labour Party branch in Old Windsor, a safe Conservative seat.[3]

McEwan won a scholarship to attend Windsor County Girls' School, then a private school where she felt completely out of place, and took elocution lessons. In an interview with Cassandra Jardine of The Daily Telegraph in 2004, she said of herself around this time: "I was very shy, very private," but after reading a poem (apparently Lady Macbeth's speech "Glamis thou art and Cawdor...") at a Brownie concert: "I realised it was going to be a way in which I could manage the world. I could protect myself by losing myself in other people."[3]

As a teenager, McEwan became interested in theatre and her theatrical career began at 14 as assistant stage manager at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. She made her first appearance on the Windsor stage in October 1946 as an attendant of Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream and played many parts with the Windsor Repertory Company from March 1949 to March 1951, including a role in the Ruth Gordon bio play Years Ago opposite guest player John Clark.

From 1951 to 1971[edit]

McEwan made her first West End appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre on 4 April 1951 as Christina Deed in Who Goes There!, which was markedly successful.[4] McEwan first appeared on television in a BBC series, Crime on Our Hands (1954), with Jack Watling, Dennis Price and Sonia Dresdel.[5] In 1957, she took over from Joan Plowright in the Royal Court production of John Osborne's play The Entertainer during its West End run at the Palace Theatre.[6]

McEwan appeared at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon during the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the period when it was evolving into the Stratford venue for the new Royal Shakespeare Company formed in 1960, and at The Aldwych, the RSC's original London home.

During the 1958 season in Stratford, she played Olivia in Twelfth Night in a production directed by Peter Hall. After McEwan died, The Guardian‍ '​s Michael Billington wrote of this performance: "At the time Olivia tended to be played as a figure of mature grief: McEwan was young, sparky, witty and clearly brimming with desire for Dorothy Tutin’s pageboy Viola."[7] McEwan's performance, according to Dominic Shellard, split contemporary critical opinion between those observers who considered it "heretical" and others who thought it "revolutionary".[8][9]

In the same season at Stratford, McEwan portrayed Marina in Pericles and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.[10][11] She returned to the theatre in 1961 to portray Ophelia in Hamlet, opposite Ian Bannen as the Prince, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing with Christopher Plummer as Benedict.[10]

In a production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal directed by Sir John Gielgud in 1962, McEwan replaced Anna Massey as Mrs Teazle during the run at the Haymarket Theatre, London; her husband was played by Sir Ralph Richardson.[12] After an American tour, this production was staged at the Majestic in New York in early 1963, and was McEwan's debut on Broadway.[12][13] Back in England, she appeared with Kenneth Williams in the original unsuccessful 1965 production of Loot by Joe Orton, which closed at the Wimbledon Theatre before reaching London.[14][15]

After this debacle, she joined the National Theatre Company, then based at the Old Vic, following the suggestion of Sir Laurence Olivier, then its head, and performed in 11 productions over the next 5 years.[6] She appeared with Olivier in Dance of Death, staged by Glen Byam Shaw and first performed in February 1967.[16] A portrayal of a marriage, Olivier asserted, according to his biographer Philip Ziegler, that he had chosen August Strindberg's play partly because it had a good part for McEwan: "I didn't give a damn if I made a success, I really didn't; it was her success I was after". The notices though concentrated on his role as the Captain rather than McEwan's as Alice, the Captain's wife.[17] A film version, with the same two leads, was released in 1969.

During her first period at the National, she also portrayed Angelica in William Congreve's Love for Love, Raymonde Chandebise in Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear, Millamant in The Way of the World and Vittoria Corombona in John Webster's The White Devil.[1] Until her roles in the plays by Strindberg and Webster, McEwan was viewed mainly as a comedienne, but these parts were thought to have extended her range.[18]

In the 1970s and 1980s[edit]

McEwan took the lead role in an adaptation for Scottish Television of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978).[19] She was Spark's favourite in the role and came the closest to the character as Spark had imagined it; Brodie has also been portrayed on stage and screen by Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith.[10][5] Her other work for television in this period included roles in The Barchester Chronicles (1982) and Mapp and Lucia (1985-86) with Prunella Scales as Mapp and McEwan as Lucia.

In 1983, McEwan played Mrs Malaprop in a production of Sheridan's The Rivals at the National Theatre in a production by Peter Wood which also featured Michael Hordern as Sir Anthony Absolute.[1] Michael Billington wrote of this performance in 2015: "It is easy to play the word-mangling Mrs Malaprop as a comic buffoon. But the whole point of McEwan’s performance was that she took language with fastidious seriousness, fractionally pausing before each misplaced epithet as if ransacking her private lexicography. As I said at the time, it was like watching a demolition expert trying to construct a cathedral."[7] For this role, McEwan won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress.[2]

She made her directing debut, in 1988, with the Renaissance Theatre Company's touring season, Renaissance Shakespeare on the Road, co-produced with the Birmingham Rep, and ending with a three-month repertory programme at the Phoenix Theatre in London. McEwan's contribution was a light romantic staging of As You Like It, with Kenneth Branagh playing Touchstone as an Edwardian music hall comedian.

Later career[edit]

McEwan won another Evening Standard Best Actress Award in 1995 for her role as Lady Wishfort in a revival of Congreve's The Way of the World, again at the National Theatre.[2][3] Sheridan Morley, then theatre critic of The Spectator, wrote: "Geraldine McEwan (in the performance of the night and her career) comes on looking like an ostrich which has mysteriously been crammed into a tambourine lined with fresh flowers."[20]

With Richard Briers, she starred from November 1997 in a revival of Eugène Ionesco's absurdist play The Chairs in a co-production between Simon McBurney's Theatre de Complicite and London's Royal Court Theatre (then temporarily based at the Duke of York's) who had staged the British premiere 40 years earlier.[1][21][22] This production had a brief run on Broadway between April and June 1998; McEwan was nominated for a Tony Award.[22][23]

Her later television credits include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990), for which she won the British Academy Television Award as Best Actress in 1991, and Mulberry (1992-93).[15] She was also in the Cassandra episode of Red Dwarf (1999), playing a prescient computer. McEwan played the demented witch Mortianna in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters, (2002), she played the role of Sister Bridget.

McEwan was selected by Granada Television for Marple (2004-7), a new series featuring the Agatha Christie sleuth Miss Marple. She told The New York Times in a 2005 interview when the series was first being screened by PBS: "I do enjoy playing very original and slightly eccentric characters. It is very amusing that Agatha Christie should have created this older woman who lives a very conventional life in a little country village and yet spends all her time solving violent crimes."[24] McEwan announced her retirement from the role in 2008 after appearing in 12 films.[25][26] She was succeeded as Miss Marple in the series by Julia McKenzie.[27]

In 2005, she provided the voice of Miss Thripp in the film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and again in A Matter of Loaf and Death in 2008.

Personal life[edit]

In 1953 McEwan married Hugh Cruttwell, whom she had first met when she was aged 14 while working at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Cruttwell was the Principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1965 to 1984.[28] They had a son Greg, who is an actor and screenwriter, and a daughter, Claudia. Cruttwell died in 2002.[28]

McEwan was reported to have declined an OBE, and later, a DBE (in 2002), but she did not respond to these claims.[10] "I will never speak of that", she said of the reputedly rejected Damehood in an interview with Cassandra Jardine in 2004.[3]

Death[edit]

McEwan died on 30 January 2015 at the Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith after suffering a stroke three months earlier.[29][30]

Selected filmography[edit]

Name Year Roles Other titles
There Was a Young Lady 1953 Irene
No Kidding 1960 Catherine Robinson Beware of Children (U.S.)
Dance of Death 1969 Alice
The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones 1976 Lady Bellaston
Escape from the Dark 1976 Miss Coutt The Littlest Horse Thieves (U.S.)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (TV series) 1978 Jean Brodie
Foreign Body 1986 Lady Ammanford
Mapp and Lucia 1985–1986 Emmeline Lucas (Lucia)
Henry V 1989 Alice
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves 1991 Mortianna
Mulberry 1992–1993 Miss Farnaby
Moses 1995 Miriam
The Love Letter 1999 Constance Scattergoods
Food of Love 2002 Novotna
The Magdalene Sisters 2002 Sister Bridget
Pure 2002 Nanna
Vanity Fair 2004 Lady Southdown
The Lazarus Child 2004 Janet
Carrie's War 2004 Mrs. Gotobed
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 2005 Miss Thripp {voice}
Arrietty 2011 Haru {voice}

Miss Marple in Marple: 2004–2008[edit]

Name Year
Marple: The Body in the Library 2004
Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage 2004
Marple: 4.50 from Paddington 2004
Marple: A Murder Is Announced 2005
Marple: Sleeping Murder 2005
Marple: The Moving Finger 2006
Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs 2006
Marple: The Sittaford Mystery 2006
Marple: At Bertram's Hotel 2007
Marple: Ordeal by Innocence 2007
Marple: Towards Zero 2008
Marple: Nemesis 2008

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan was a great comic stylist", What's On Stage, 2 February 2015
  2. ^ a b c Obituary:Geraldine McEwan, The Telegraph, 1 February 2015
  3. ^ a b c d Jardine, Cassandra (8 December 2004). "'Fishnets, tarty wigs – I love all that'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th edition, Gale (1982)
  5. ^ a b Janet Moat "McEwan, Geraldine (1932-2015)", BFI screenonline
  6. ^ a b Simon Farquhar "Geraldine McEwen: Actress whose decades of triumphs on the stage were topped off by her acclaimed Miss Marple on television", The Independent, 1 February 2015
  7. ^ a b Michael Billington "Geraldine McEwan: mischievously witty, from Mrs Malaprop to Miss Marple", The Guardian, 1 February 2015
  8. ^ Dominic Shellard British Theatre Since the War, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1999 [2008], p.96
  9. ^ See also Peter Hall's autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself: the autobiography of Peter Hall, London: Oberon Books, 2000, p.145. Originally published by Sinclair Stevenson (London) in 1993.
  10. ^ a b c d Michael Coveney "Geraldine McEwan obituary, The Guardian, 31 January 2015
  11. ^ "Geraldine McEwan ~ The Shakespeare Connection", geraldinemcewan.com
  12. ^ a b Sheridan Morley Gielgud: The Authorised Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, p.339
  13. ^ John Chapman "The School for Scandal is Memorable", Chicago Tribune (reprint of New York Daily News item), 26 January 1963, p.64
  14. ^ John Lahr Prick Up Your Ears, Knopf, 1978
  15. ^ a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 386. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  16. ^ Simon Callow The National: The Theatre and Its Work 1963–1997, Nick Hern Books, 1997
  17. ^ Philip Ziegler Olivier, London: MacLehose Press, 2013, p,292
  18. ^ George Russell The Old Vic Theatre: A History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.154
  19. ^ Alasdair Steven "Obituary: Geraldine McEwan, actress", The Scotsman, 2 February 2015
  20. ^ Sheridan Morley "Theatre: Love Has No Laws", The Spectator, 28 October 1995, p.51
  21. ^ Matt Wolf "Review: The Chairs", Variety, 13 December 1997
  22. ^ a b Harry Haun "Briers and McEwan Dust Off The Chairs for Broadway", Playbill, 17 April 1998
  23. ^ "Geraldine McEwan", Playbill Vault
  24. ^ Marilyn Stasio "Make Way for TV's New Miss Marple, One With Some Romance in Her Past", New York Times, 15 April 2005
  25. ^ Conlan, Tara (2008-01-23). "McEwan retires from Marple role". Media Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  26. ^ Nicola Harley "Miss Marple actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82", The Telegraph, 31 January 2015
  27. ^ "Geraldine McEwan, Actress Known for Miss Marple Role, Dies at 82", New York Times (AP), 2 February 2015
  28. ^ a b Claire Armitstead Obituary: Hugh Cruttwell, The Guardian, 29 August 2002
  29. ^ "Actress Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82". BBC News Entertainment & Arts. 31 January 2015. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  30. ^ "'Miss Marple actor Geraldine McEwan dies aged 82'". The Guardian. 31 January 2015. 

External links[edit]