BOOKS… Great Britons of Stage and Screen: Volume II: Directors in Conversation (2019) by Barbara Roisman Cooper



Theatre, TV and Reel Recollections of British Directors…


More wonderful interviews from Barbara Roisman Cooper in the second of her Great Britons of Stage and Screen book series.


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Recently I was honoured when Barbara Roisman Cooper contacted me after a book launch to review her entertainment themed books. These were Great Britons of Stage and Screen: In Conversation (2015) and her follow up book from 2019, Great Britons of Stage and Screen: Volume II: Directors in Conversation. Eagle eyes will have spotted the first of these book reviews was published here at the end of August. Now, this particular review takes us behind the scenes with interviews between Roisman Cooper and twelve British directors from the stage and the big and wee screen.

The book starts with an affectionate and warm tribute to directors and this book from the actor David Suchet. Suchet featured in her first book and has worked in all three mediums, film, television and theatre as an actor. After a brief history of the director role in these fields, Suchet adds his personal, invaluable view of what he wants from a director from an actor’s perspective;

I want to know about the concept he might have for the piece and how he might regard the character that I have been offered to play.

He also speaks warmly of the interviewees in this book adding;

I am so pleased that for me, all of them represent the very highest standards of artistry and creativity and also the humility to allow an actor’s creativity to come forth and together, in collaboration, produce the best possible work.

Like her former book, each of these directors is interviewed in a cosy intimate setting, often their home or office. Roisman Cooper also provides a list of useful abbreviations used in the book and has a lengthy list of acknowledgements.

Each chapter is dedicated to a director and the introduction includes a short biography and a detailed description of their meeting place. Roisman Cooper adds a detailed physical description of the director. These introductions are so vividly written you can almost see these interviews take place. The chapter ends with an extensive list of their credits from stage and screen, along with awards and honours. Her notes relating to each chapter are supported by a wide range of books including autobiographies and film history books.

This book then adds those sterling interviews. These interviews describe these directors roles in all three settings and describe a wealth of their roles in film projects, theatre companies and when working with a starry collection of acting talents. These interviews from this behind the scenes perspective add so much more personal insights into the wonderful rich history of British stage and screen.

These interviews often add supporting quotes from Roisman Cooper’s interviews with actors, actresses and others who worked with the director concerned on a particular project. Many are familiar names from those interviewed in Roisman Cooper’s first book of the series such as actress, Angela Lansbury and actor, Richard Todd.

There are also responses from other interviews Roisman Cooper has carried out with famous acting names such as Ernest Borgnine and Carol Lynley. Other prolific names discussed by these directors include Stuart Whitman, Alan Rickman, Judi Dench, Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness and Walt Disney.

As an entertainment blogger and film buff, I was happy to see the inclusion of films I’d reviewed here. These including as Charles Jarrott’s work on Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Ronald Neame’s work on The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and I Could Go On Singing (1963). I learned more about the making of these films and enjoyed reading those behind the scenes tales of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor with the former director and Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde with the latter one.

From the director’s interviews, I read many new and illuminating stories on their work. This was in addition to their personal recollections of their childhood and directing skills, workplaces and peers. These remembrances included Ken Annakin’s thoughts about his film work with Carol Reed and Pat Jackson’s thoughts about his Hollywood career.

To my joy, there were also insights and anecdotes on my childhood favourite films such as Mary Queen of Scots (1971). I got a few pointers for future viewings and posts such as Pat Jackson’s Shadow on the Wall (1950), after reading the recollections of this film and its production as remembered by then childhood star, Gigi Perreau.

I enjoyed reading about the director’s lives and about their film, television and stage productions and casts.  These interviews are a joy to read and full of interesting anecdotes and stories of their star-studded acting casts. When sometimes a director tells about a bad experience on a subject, Roisman Cooper adds others views on this time and place. This giving a fuller and more rounded picture of events on that project.

Roisman Cooper again treats her subjects as individuals with unique questions on their careers as a whole, with relevant and insightful questions. It was interesting to read of those directors who made the transition from stage to screen and vice versa and those who had worked in Britain and America.

Insights were also given into their roles in a wide range of their works on and off stage including Michael Attenborough’s musical Brighton Rock and Blakemore’s productions of Blithe Spirit and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  Other works mentioned are littered throughout the book and include The Chalk Garden, Caligula and Macbeth.

Also as in her previous book, this author has compiled this book from previously written interviews. This meant sadly that a few of those director names sadly no longer with us. However, their work lives on through their answers gleaned through Roisman Cooper’s natural interview style.

Roisman Cooper’s accompanying personal photographs of these directors are embellished by others. She adds photographs from those she adds quotes from, and from the director’s productions and cast members from a wide range of productions.

Shots included Glynis Johns in a behind the scenes shot from Annakin’s Miranda in a mermaid costume and actor Stephen Grief adds a personal photograph from his role in Blakemore’s stage production of The Front Page.  A later photograph shows Nicholas Hytner discussing a scene with Helen Mirren in the film version of The Madness of King George and another with Gigi Perreau with Nancy Davis in Shadow on the Wall.

I will list all the directors interviewed in Roisman Cooper’s book. These will be in alphabetical order with some facts and anecdotes I learned after reading this fabulous book.

Ken Annakin told of his work with Richard Todd on The Longest Day (1962). Todd supports this by telling how Annakin filmed a scene with the English troops taking Pegasus Bridge. Todd had taken part in this real-life war story and the director involved this actor in the creation of the scene. Annakin himself supports this saying;

Really, God was with me because Richard gave me some of the details that I wouldn’t ordinarily have known.

Theatre director, Michael Attenborough talked about his famous family, as the son of actor and director Richard Attenborough. He also spoke about the American actress, Stockard Channing when she worked with him in a primarily British cast. Michael Blakemore compared the working styles of Robert Morley and Lawrence Olivier. He also described his work with Angela Lansbury.

Howard Davies shared warm memories of working with Jeremy Irons and the late Diana Rigg; telling how he directed this actress;

in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1996 at the Almeida. She broke my heart in the last few pages of that play. What she did with Martha is what the craft of acting is all about. She was all about conveying the truth of the character to the audience.

Richard Eyre recounts working alongside Winston Churchill’s daughter, Lady Mary Soames on the Board of the National Theatre. He recalls that during of the Board’s meetings;

she sent me a note that read, “Who is Ian McKellen?”

Michael Grandage recalled acting roles with Donald Sinden and he praised actors, Ewan McGregor and Alfred Molina. Nicholas Hytner told about his work with actress Maggie Smith and on the play, The Madness of King George III. Pat Jackson added his stories about working on Night Mail (1936) with the poet W H Auden. Jackson also recounted moving to Hollywood in 1947 and living in Shirley Temple’s honeymoon cottage for a while and shares a tale on Clark Gable.

Charles Jarrott gave an in-depth account of working on Anne of the Thousand Days. In this, he shared his wonderful behind the scenes tales about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. His affection for this project was felt when he said;

The only real problem with Richard was stopping him from telling stories, and I occasionally had to put my foot down so we could get back to work. All the actors got on well together. It was a very happy picture.

Ronald Neame recounted directing The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), adding some fun anecdotes on filming this movie with Maggie Smith. Tony Palmer shared enlightening stories about making his musician biopic films and told of his collaborations and friendships with The Beatles. Director, Deborah Warner completed the interviews as she spoke about her collaboration with actress Fiona Shaw. Warner also added how she perceives her role as a female director as different from a male director.

This book then concluded with a detailed bibliography, index and a short biography about the book author Roisman Cooper. I’d like to thanks Roisman Cooper once more for allowing me to review this book. Also those interviewed directors for joining in these honest conversations with Roisman Cooper. With this book, I learned more about directing, these directors’ careers and their thoughts on this valuable role. This book told from a behind the scenes angle was full of valuable insights into work in theatres and on-screen and from rehearsal to production.

This book now has a place in my heart more than any reference book. And to conclude as character Simon, a portrait artist talks about how he produced his portraits in the film As Good As It Gets (1997). This quote easily reflects the art of a good conversation and is seen in Roisman Cooper’s interviewing approach, photographs and style. As Simon says;

“You look at someone long enough, you discover their humanity.”


A disclaimer and personal thank you to Barbara Roisman Cooper for giving me a copy of her book 2019, Great Britons of Stage and Screen: Volume II: Directors in Conversation. Also thanks for providing the photographs from this book that accompany the film posters in the slideshow. All copyright for these photographs belongs to Barbara Roisman Cooper.  Financial compensation was not received, however, I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you would like your book to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.




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