Monday, 4 September 2000

Alec Guinness: Blessings in Disguise (1985)

Edition: Fontana, 1986
Review number: 598

All too often actors' anecdotes amount to "You should have seen me in (whatever). I was wonderful." Alec Guinness, however, carries the opposite approach to such an extreme in his memoirs that you wonder how he ever became a success. His humility sometimes comes over as a little affected, but does at least leave room for him to write positively about many of his colleagues, legends of the twentieth century theatre and film.

Rather than opting for a straightforwardly chronological approach, Blessings in Disguise is organised in a thematic manner. Most of the "themes" are accounts of his relationships with particular people, such as Ralph Richardson, though one of the longest sections is about the way in which his religious convictions evolved until he was received into the Catholic church.

My major criticism of Blessings in Disguise as a memoir of Alec Guinness is that it concentrates on his stage acting to the almost total exclusion of his film roles. Given that vastly more people have seen just one of the films in which he appeared (Star Wars) than will ever have seen him on stage, and given the esteem in which his film acting is held, this is to be regretted. To take the example just cited, Star Wars is mentioned only once in the book, in the context of an imaginary interview in which Alec Guinness says that it effectively means he could be reasonably comfortable for the rest of his life. Interesting issues such as what he thought of George Lucas - and even more with reference to other films, what he thought of David Lean, with whom he famously fell out - are ignored.

On the whole, I enjoyed the anecdotes (though the early sections are a bit difficult to get through), but would have preferred a more balanced account of the life and personality of one of the twentieth century's greatest actors.

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