Written with full co-operation of Michael Foot, the former Labour party leader, to whom she was married for 50 years prior to her death in 1999, this biography of the film-maker, writer and feminist Jill Craigie is an intimate portrait of an influential and charismatic woman. Born in 1914, Craigie had a lonely and unhappy childhood, mostly spent in a succession of boarding schools. At 19 she was married to a film technician with whom she had a daughter. But, although she would later describe her first husband as the most satisfactory of her lovers, she soon abandoned him in favour of Jeffrey Dell, a screenwriter who later became her second husband, and with whom she collaborated on a novel and film script. Craigie had many admirers and rapidly became a well-known figure in artistic and political circles in wartime London. She had by now decided that she would make a career as a documentary film-maker and soon became the first woman to establish a national reputation in the field, most notably as a result of her 1944 film, "Out of Chaos", featuring the work of Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer. During the 1945 election she was making a campaign film about housing in postwar Britain, "The Way We Live Now", in which bomb-scared Plymouth played a major role, and it was there that she met Michael Foot, and was immediately captivated. After a four-year affair, necessarily clandestine as Foot was now an MP, the couple married in 1949. In the 60s and 70s, Craigie's ferociously protective, though often critical, support of her husband in his career as a left-wing firebrand, then a Labour minister and finally the leader of his party, often set her at odds with senior colleagues, notably Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. But she would never have been happy to simply adopt the role of a political wife. The couple's mutual interest in literature and the arts made their Hampstead house a meeting place for artists and writers, one of whom, Arthur Koestler, it was later revealed, betrayed their friendship by raping Craigie. As the women's movement grew in strength in Britain during the 60s and 70s, Craigie became an inspirational figure for many of its leaders and an active participant in many feminist causes. Most importantly, after meeting veterans of the suffragette movement about whose struggle she hoped to make a film, she embarked upon her monumental history of the fight to win the vote, "Daughters of Dissent". She and Foot also became regular visitors to Yugoslavia, where the dissident writer Milovan Djilas was a close friend, and her love of the country later led her to make her final film, "Two Hours from London", which documented the ordeal of the besieged city of Dubrovnik. Carl Rollyson was given access to the archive in Foot's Hampstead home, which contains Craigie's research notes, drafts of her journalism and scripts, and her correspondence with an array of major historical figures, ranging from prime ministers to writers, film-makers and artists. He interviews Craigie's daughter Julie as well as a range of her surviving friends, and Michael Foot talks with frankness about his marriage, the strains which were placed upon it by his own infidelities, and his pride in having shared the life of so remarkable a woman.
A former stage actor, Carl Rollyson has authored more than 30 books, ranging from biographies (Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Dana Andrews, Sylvia Plath, and Susan Sontag) to studies of American culture, genealogy, children's biography, film and literary criticism. He has written more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history, and his work has been reviewed in The New York Times, the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals including American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Rollyson is also the advisory editor of the Hollywood Legends series, which focuses on biographies of classic stars and filmmakers, published by University Press of Mississippi. He has reviewed biographies regularly for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Observer, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Kansas City Star,The New Criterion, and the Barnes & Noble Review