Jenny Agutter, Cheltenham Literature Festival, Sunday, October 7.
I need an exceptionally good excuse to miss the latest instalment of Downton Abbey (never mind iPlayer), but an hour in the delightful company of one of our finest actresses is certainly reason enough. Still gorgeous after all these years, assured English rose Jenny Agutter spoke entertainingly about her extraordinary life and career, from her early nomadic years in south-east Asia, to her days at Elmhurst School for Dance and her long stay in Los Angeles.
Beginning with fond reminiscences as a ballet dancer in Ballerina, she dwelt at length on her fledgling film career, in particular the legendary Walkabout and The Railway Children. An actor's life isn't necessarily a land of milk and honey, and she may have subsequently faded into obscurity, had it not been for some lucky breaks in live theatre that eventually led to the West End stage, an anecdotal interlude that described the eyebrow-raising tale of John Gielgud's sudden descent onto a chessboard during a production of The Tempest. There followed a cursory review of her later work during the post-Hollywood years on television, and some of her more unusual appearances, which included singing backing vocals on a 1990 Prefab Sprout album. The future may see her working in a directorial capacity, but whatever it may hold for her, it was clear that she has plenty more to give.
During questions, two gentlemen raised a few smiles by confessing their adolescent love for her (and they weren't the only ones who felt that way), and in return she regaled the amused and appreciative audience with tales of failed auditions and screen tests, whilst encouraging aspiring actors to keep their eyes open, and seize those Heaven-sent opportunities the moment they present themselves. The fame that might come with it, however, is fleeting and elusive; be sure it's what you want to do. Let's all rejoice that it was always Jenny's life ambition, leaving us with a cast-iron case of "Thanks for the memories".
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