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JEMMA FIGHTS BACK; As her career took off, Jemma Redgrave was dragged down by personal tragedy. She tells Henrietta Knight how her family's instinct to survive helped her pull through.

It's been the best year of her life...and also the worst. While Jemma Redgrave has seen her career reach new heights, in her personal world she has hit rock bottom.

Jemma, who is back on our screens as feisty Dr Eleanor Bramwell in two feature-length films of the award-winning TV medical drama, won acclaim earlier this year for her role as Cimmie in the series about Oswald Mosley. She is currently treading the boards in the hit West End play Major Barbara, and will appear later this year in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's controversial The Acid House.

At 32, she is on top of the world as far as her career goes. But in her private life things couldn't have been tougher.

In the past 12 months, Jemma, who is part of the famous Redgrave acting dynasty, and her barrister husband Tim Owen separated. Then a few months later her mother Deirdre Hamilton-Hill died.

"I have been having a pretty bloody time of it," she says. "Looking back it couldn't have been much worse and I wondered how I was going to survive. But I think I've gained a certain strength. Our family motto is 'From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success'. I hope I've inherited the Redgrave spirit."

Her marriage break-up has been far from conventional. She and Tim, 36, decided it would be too traumatic for their four-year-old son Gabriel for them to divorce. So Tim moved into a flat near their terraced home in North London so that he can see his son every day.

"I was very upset when my parents got divorced and I don't want Gabriel to experience the feelings I did," says Jemma. "It's still difficult for him, he can tell that our family life must be different, but Tim is probably seeing him just as much as he did when we were sharing the same house.

"Tim was working so hard - often a six-day week - and coming home late at night. We barely saw each other. And perhaps we tried too hard. I still love him dearly and wish we could have worked it all out."

Jemma was nine when her mother - a '60s model - and father, the socialist actor Corin Redgrave, separated. Corin felt a compulsion to go, packed his bags and left. At first the separation was amicable, but then Deirdre wrote a "warts and all" account of their life together, To Be A Redgrave, which was published in 1982.

Deirdre claimed dire finances prompted her to reveal family secrets. Debts had forced her to move into a council flat in Fulham, South London with Jemma and her brother Luke. But the book caused ripples within the family.

Jemma, then 15, could not bring herself to read the claims that her father expected her mother to be "Mrs Lenin" and banned her from eating French food or drinking wine because it was "too bourgeois".

"It was all too close to home," she says. "So I stuffed myself with sweets and chocolates to comfort myself. I put on tons of weight and was miserable. The girls at my school teased me and called me 'Fatty'. I still don't want to think about what my mother wrote and I've still never spoken to my father about it."

Jemma's upbringing has been far from conventional. Deirdre brought home the Sex Pistols album Never Mind The B******s and would play it loudly while dancing around like a teenager. She would fill their home with her friends that Jemma remembers as "dodgy characters", and would stay out until all hours.

"I had a free and honest childhood," she says. "My mother took me to see the Sex Pistols when I was 13, which made me the envy of all my friends. She never lectured me about sex, or being home at midnight, or about drugs, although she had some rather unconventional ideas about them.

But I was always the adult in our relationship. She was a total innocent in lots of ways and I used to worry about her. Mum had lots of affairs and I was rather prudish about them. I had to remind myself that it was her life and she had to get on with it."

The mother-daughter relationship changed when Deirdre was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. Deirdre wrote Me And My Shadow, about her struggle to beat cancer, and became the stronger of the two.

"She had to support me emotionally," says Jemma. "She was the one with cancer, but she was helping me to cope with her illness."

Ironically, it wasn't cancer that killed her. Last October, Deirdre went out for dinner with some friends, came home, and died of pneumonia the next day. She was 58.

"Barely a moment goes by without me thinking about my mother," says Jemma. "I miss her calls at six in the morning. And sometimes I talk to her in my dressing-room as if she's still here. I ask her what the hell I'm doing in the theatre when I've got my foot in the door of television."

The Bramwell TV films see the headstrong doctor juggling love affairs while running an East End hospital during the start of the Boer War. In one scene she examines ten naked soldiers who stand in a long line, like a Victorian version of The Full Monty.

"It was a laugh," smiles Jemma. "I couldn't keep a straight face - we had to do quite a few takes. I kept forgetting I was Eleanor Bramwell and coming in as Jemma Redgrave."

Dr Bramwell also suffers the trauma of an unplanned pregnancy, but finally resolves her tangled romances.

Jemma insists that her own private life is much less complicated. Despite rumours linking her with Mosley co-star Jonathan Cake, she says there's no one special for her just now. "Gabriel is the most important person at the moment," she says. "Tim and I still give him a happy and stable home."

Whenever she can she takes him on set, as her parents did with her when she was a child.

"I adored being with my father in the theatre and I know Gabriel loves being with me," she says. "He came nearly every day to the shooting of Bramwell. It meant that he got to see more of me, and all the cast and crew have become like another family to him.

"I haven't turned down a part because of him yet, because I've been lucky to have done everything in London, though I am sure the time will come.

"But Gabriel has never seen me on TV because all the shows have been on after nine - and what's the point of having a watershed if parents don't adhere to it," she adds sternly.

It might be a little thing but her determination to stick to decent family values provides another glimpse of that famous Redgrave fighting spirit.

Bramwell is on ITV on Monday and on Thursday June 18 at 8.00pm.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Knight, Henrietta
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 13, 1998
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