WASHINGTON - Joyce Redman - the Anglo-Irish actress who brought a mischievous sparkle to the most suggestive scene ever filmed at a dining table, the unforgettable display of gluttony and lust in the 1963 movie “Tom Jones’’ - died May 10 in Kent, England. She was 96.
Her son, actor Crispin Redman, announced the death and said his mother had pneumonia.
In a career spanning eight decades, Ms. Redman was a stalwart of the British theater. She appeared in productions at the Old Vic, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and the National Theatre and opposite actors such as Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench.
Ms. Redman was 5 feet tall, but in performance conveyed an intensity and authority that belied her diminutive stature. As Anne Boleyn in a 1949 Broadway production of “Anne of the Thousand Days,’’ Ms. Redman “scorches the pages’’ of the Maxwell Anderson drama “to the point where the play is not a good fire insurance risk,’’ wrote New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson.
Her filmed performances were sparse but beguiling. Her Lady Macbeth in a 1949 television production of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth’’ was “considerably more seductive and rather less ferocious’’ than New York Herald Tribune television critic John Crosby recalled from school days.
She earned an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role as the sexually ravenous Mrs. Waters in “Tom Jones,’’ director Tony Richardson’s bawdy version of the Henry Fielding novel. The film, which starred Albert Finney as a dashing rake, won Oscars for best picture, director, screenplay, and score.
Finney and Ms. Redman, looking plump for the role, embody sexual hunger as they excitedly slurp and gnaw at food in a candle-lit tavern. The seduction by food, a scene lasting about three wordless minutes of mutual leering and devouring, was so cleverly performed that it has become a highlight of an enduring film.
“Joyce and I had done theater together,’’ Finney told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot in 2000. “We just played it for fun. It was filmed early in the morning, and it took hours. They kept bringing more food - trying us out on different dishes. They’d say things like ‘Bring more oysters. She’s very good on oysters.’ . . . We weren’t sure the audience would get it at all. It seems they did.’’
Later in the film, Ms. Redman sums up the movie’s dark satirical spirit when her character shrugs with nonchalance upon learning the man she bewitched over food may have been her son.
Ms. Redman also earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role as Desdemona’s devoted servant Emilia in “Othello’’ (1965). The movie was essentially a filmed version of a National Theater production starring Olivier as Shakespeare’s jealous Moor and Smith as Desdemona.
Joyce Redman was born and grew up in County Mayo, Ireland. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and joined the prestigious Old Vic company in 1944.
Ms. Redman had supporting roles in films including Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s wartime drama “One of Our Aircraft Is Missing’’ (1942) and the contraceptive comedy “Prudence and the Pill’’ (1968). She also played the elderly Queen Victoria in the television movie “Victoria & Albert’’ (2001), which also featured her son Crispin.
In 1949, she married Charles Wynne-Roberts, a former British army captain. She leaves three children and five grandchildren, according to British press accounts.