05 November 2012

Vivien Leigh's birthday

Ninety-nine years ago today, in Darjeeling India, as the sun began to set, a baby girl was born to Ernest and Gertrude Hartley. She was named Vivian Mary, and she would grow up to become the  famously beautiful and talented actress Vivien Leigh.

In my opinion, nobody has ever been more aptly named than Vivien (except maybe Grace Kelly). Vivien always had zest for life, needed very little sleep, and was always alert and energetic. And indeed, the name Vivian is of Latin descent, meaning 'full of life'.

Above all else though, Vivien Leigh was an actress, and if you ask me, a thumping good one at that. Unfortunately for us, she much prefered acting on the stage to films. Couple this with ill health, and the result is a rather small filmography- nineteen films, to be exact. Naturally, I think she's great in all of them, however, I present to you five of the films she made that you really ought to see.

Sidewalks of London (1938) In this film, Vivien plays Libby (short for Liberty), a semi- charming but none-too-likeable street urchin who joins a team of buskers led by Charles Laughton, falls in love with Rex Harrison, and gets famous. It's pre- Scarlett O'Hara, but you can see her cutting her teeth being manipulative and not very nice.

 That Hamilton Woman (1941) Teamed up for the third and final time on film, Vivien and Laurence Olivier played real life lovers Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson. In period costumes and in beautiful black and white cinematography, Vivien Leigh has never looked more ethereal. And boy, do she and Laurence Olivier smoulder.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)   For the defining portrayal of Blance DuBois, Vivien won her second Academy Award as best actress. Watching her psyche slowly unravel and come to a shattering head is always unnerving and ultimately devastating.

Gone With the Wind ((1939) For many people, this is THE Vivien Leigh performance. And rightly so. It is stellar, and is one of the greatest performances ever captured on film. I want to find somebody who's never seen this film and show it to them just so I can watch their reactions.

Waterloo Bridge (1940) For me, this is Vivien Leigh's greatest performance. I love how understated and subtle she is here. I also think it was a really smart choice to do this film after Gone With the Wind, as the character is the complete opposite of Scarlett O'Hara. Not to mention that the soft black and white cinematography makes her look absolutely luminous. I really can't laud this movie enough. I really, really, can't.

And, just as an added bonus, I present to you, my favorite picture of Vivien Leigh ever.

Happy Birthday, beautiful Vivien.