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A decent but not satisfying book about one of the greatest actresses of all time
on 3 November 2013
"Vivien Leigh: an intimate portrait" is an undoubtedly beautiful book but as far as the photos quality or the author's text are concerned never original or accurate. The photographs are beautiful indeed but far from stunning given her subject. Vivien Leigh was the quintessence of beauty: she boasted a classic beauty with a powerful sexual magnetism which few actresses have managed to surclass, even such actresses as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe or even Grace Kelly. Her most amazing portraits or photos are missing which is a disappointment.
The author's text is not bad but given her claim of her interviewing the various people who came to know Vivien Leigh as an actress and a woman, the omission and mistakes are pretty surprising. She clearly relied on the Anne Edwards's sympathetic yet inaccurate portrayal of Vivien Leigh. In the case of Edwards we can be forgiving given the fact that she was the first who tried to uncover the woman behind the star and the exact nature of her mental illness. But after the monumental Hugo Vickers's account why relaying on the same and old clichès about her?
Also what annoyed me greatly was the inaccurate description of her bipolar disorder. Hugo Vickers gave the most exact description of her plight. Something Bean was not even able to describe (first she claimed she attempted suicide without any proof ,despite her clear swinging between high mood and low mood; second Vivien Leigh was more on the high mood side instead of her low side).
On the contrary, the characterisation of Vivien Leigh as an actress and her career both in Cinema and Theatre is quite good. She effectively describes her most impressive works in "Gone with the wind"(Academy Award winner as best actress in 1940), "A streetcar named desire"(Academy Award winner as best actress in 1953), "Waterloo bridge", "Ship of fools", "That Hamilton woman" and "The roman spring of Mrs. Stone" as well her less succesful films where she was nontheless extraordinary that is to say "Ceaser an Cleopatra", "Anna Karenina" and "The deep blue sea". Her stage career where she had to fight against prejudices towards her being a "movie star", Laurence Olivier's wife and a captivating beautiful woman is equally well portrayed.
Overall a good book with many flaws in terms of text and photographs. It is clear the passion of the author towards her subjects but the final result is a little reductive. Nevertheless a nice addiction for any Vivien Leigh's fan or simply a film addicted.