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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Vanessa Redgrave's role in The Fever dovetails with the Oscar winner's lifetime of advocating for those who are disadvantaged.
By ERIC DEGGANS Times TV/Media Critic
Published June 13, 2007
[AP photo | HBO]
Actress Vanessa Redgrave attends a screening in New York for the HBO film The Fever.
The first lesson learned from my too-short time in conversation with acting legend Vanessa Redgrave: Do not call her an activist.
Never mind that the Oscar winner left acting school in the mid 1950s to support Hungarian refugees in London. Or that she faced accusations of anti-Semitism for developing a controversial documentary about the Palestinian cause in 1978.
Now she brings her considerable talents to the delicate film version of a powerful one-person play, The Fever, sharing screen time with modern-day celebrity activists Michael Moore and Angelina Jolie.
"It's not activism," said Redgrave, speaking over her publicist's cell phone from New York City. "People can be awfully active, but that doesn't mean they're getting to the core of the problems. On the whole, the media doesn't show people what they can do."
Redgrave, 70, offers a different vision in The Fever, a version of the play that even playwright Wallace Shawn didn't think could be made.
The play, made famous by Shawn (a character actor best known as bad guy Vizzini in The Princess Bride) and Redgrave in solo stage performances, dramatizes the journey of a wealthy person struck with a fever in an impoverished country. As the illness rages, the character struggles over questions about the roots of wealth and injustice, leading to a new view of global privilege and oppression.
The countries involved remain nameless, allowing any actor anywhere to present the work.
An overheard comment on the evil of the rich leads the main character, a moderately wealthy widow, on a meditative search to a beautiful, war-torn nation.
"HBO has put it very well (in the film's tag line): Look beyond comfort," said Redgrave. "The message is: This is happening in our world, and each of us has to make some choices ... even if that choice is to turn our backs."
Producers of The Fever also made some choices. Redgrave's character is an unnamed woman who lives in England. The poor countries shown are not African, avoiding stereotypes while also ensuring all major characters are white.
Moore is a bit wooden as an American journalist in the poor country, but Jolie is effective and surprisingly subtle as a freedom fighter in another oppressed country.
Redgrave's family is a powerful acting dynasty that includes father Michael Redgrave, sister Lynn Redgrave and daughter Natasha Richardson. The Fever has contributions from other members. Vanessa's son Carlo Nero directed it and adapted the play with Shawn. Her daughter, Joely Richardson, plays her character as a young woman shamed by an orgy of presents at Christmas.
Asked if she ever once took a journey similar to her character's, Redgrave remembered presenting a backyard fundraiser for English seamen at age 4.
"I'm not wealthy, but I do consider myself immensely privileged," said Redgrave, who has channeled paychecks from films such as Howard's Endand Mission: Impossible into her advocacy work. "I must contribute to return a gift I was given ... to act and have a voice for change."