Playing for Time

During World War II, the French singer and pianist Fania Fénelon (Vanessa Redgrave) is sent to Auschwitz where she’s hired to perform together with a women’s orchestra. A critically acclaimed TV movie that came on the heels of the miniseries Holocaust (1978), presented like a play by Arthur Miller. Set in filthy, sparsely furnished camp environs (with occasional inserts of archive footage), the story gives its excellent cast (Redgrave is the stand-out) plenty of opportunity to shine as they deal with questions regarding hope, dignity, survival and (not least) individualism. Plenty of conflict… some of it questioned by survivors who were in the camp together with Fénelon.

1980-U.S. Made for TV. 150 min. Color. Produced by John E. Quill, Bernard Sofronski, Linda Yellen. Directed by Daniel Mann, Joseph Sargent. Teleplay: Arthur Miller. Book: Fania Fénelon (”The Musicians of Auschwitz”). Cast: Vanessa Redgrave (Fania Fénelon), Jane Alexander (Alma Rosé), Shirley Knight (Maria Mandel), Christine Baranski, Robin Bartlett, Marisa Berenson… Maud Adams, Viveca Lindfors.

Trivia: Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews were allegedly considered for the lead role. Sargent began directing the movie but was replaced by Mann. Later turned into a stage play.

Emmys: Outstanding Drama Special, Writing, Actress (Redgrave), Supporting Actress (Alexander).

Last word: “I would have no less than the best actress in the world, and one who could sing and play piano, to boot. I was left with only one choice: Vanessa Redgrave. Vanessa is a heavily politicized artist. She is also a human being who feels passionately about all the people who suffer. Being a purist she decided not to create a polished movie-star version of how an Auschwitz-victim should look like but to appear as a real victim of the camp. There was no glamour or glitz to her approach only hardship and neglect. She even accepted to have her head shaved, as was the case with most Jewish inmates.” (Yellen, Huffington Post)



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