Penelope Gilliatt (//; born Penelope Ann Douglass Conner; 25 March 1932 – 9 May 1993) was an English novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and film critic. As one of the main film critics for The New Yorker magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, Gilliatt was known for her detailed descriptions and evocative reviews. A writer of short stories, novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays, Gilliatt was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971).
|Born||Penelope Ann Douglass Conner|
25 March 1932
|Died||9 May 1993 (aged 61)|
|Occupation||Film critic and novelist|
|Spouse||Roger Gilliatt (m. 1954; divorced)|
(m. 1963; div. 1968)
|Children||1 daughter (with Osborne)|
Gilliatt began her work as a film and theater critic with London's The Observer, where she wrote numerous reviews between 1961 and 1967. In 1967, she began a column in The New Yorker, in which she alternated for six-month intervals with Pauline Kael as that publication's chief film critic. Gilliatt's column ran from late spring to early fall, and Kael's for the remainder of the year. The contrasting perspectives of Kael and Gilliatt were a significant attraction to the magazine. Gilliatt's criticism tended to focus on visual metaphors and imagery, describing scenes from films in detail in her characteristically grandiose style. She also prided herself on knowing actors and directors personally, and tended to interweave her acquaintance with them into reviews of their films. Many of Gilliatt's readers appreciated her colorful and detailed writing, while other readers saw her style as distracting and superfluous to film criticism, and felt that her description of films was too complete.
Her career as a film critic for The New Yorker ended in 1979, after it was determined that a profile she had written of Graham Greene contained unattributed passages taken from a piece about Greene by novelist Michael Meshaw that had appeared in The Nation two years before. The fact-checker had warned editor William Shawn of the plagiarism, but Shawn published the article anyway. Following its appearance, Greene said that Gilliatt’s ”so-called Profile” of him was “inaccurate” and the product of a “rather wild imagination.” Although she no longer wrote film criticism for The New Yorker, Gilliatt continued to publish fiction in the magazine.
Some of her film (and theater) writing was first collected in Unholy Fools: Wits, Comics, Disturbers of the Peace: Film & Theater (1973), which reprints articles first published in The Guardian, Harper's Bazaar / Queen / Harper's & Queen, The New Yorker, The Observer, The Spectator, and Vogue. A later collection, Three-Quarter Face: Reports & Reflections (1980), features articles from The New Yorker and her "Nabokov" article from Vogue. In addition, Gilliatt published two non-fiction books on two French film directors, Jean Renoir: Essays, Conversations, Reviews (1975) and Jacques Tati (1976), as well as a book on comedy, To Wit: Skin and Bones of Comedy (1990).
In addition to her criticism and non-fiction books, Gilliatt wrote short stories, novels, teleplays, and one screenplay. The film was Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), an accepting treatment of homosexuality based in part on her debut novel One by One. She won several Best Screenplay awards for the film, including the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Writers Guild of America, USA, and Writers' Guild of Great Britain. The screenplay was also nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA.
Gilliatt wrote several novels, including One by One (1965), A State of Change (1967), The Cutting Edge (1978), Moral Matters (1983), and A Woman of Singular Occupation (1988). Mortal Matters, much concerned with shipbuilding and suffragettes, is largely set in Northumberland and Newcastle. There are several pages devoted to Hexham, and numerous mentions of Newcastle locations. She celebrates the achievements of the North East, including the vessels Mauretania and Charles Parsons' Turbinia. Gilliatt also praises the Torrens, the Sunderland-built ship on which Joseph Conrad served for two years from 1891.
Gilliatt's short stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, were collected in What's It Like Out? and Other Stories (UK edition, 1968) / Come Back If It Doesn't Get Better (US edition, 1969), Nobody's Business (1972), Splendid Lives (1977), Quotations from Other Lives (1982), They Sleep Without Dreaming (1985), 22 Stories (1986), and Lingo (1990).
Born in London, Gilliatt was the daughter of a barrister named Cyril Conner. Her mother was Marie Stephanie Douglass. Both parents came from Newcastle upon Tyne, and divorced not long after their daughter's birth. Gilliatt had an upper-middle class upbringing in Northumberland, where her father (having left his legal practice) was director of the BBC in the north east from 1938 to 1941, and she retained a lifelong love of the Roman Wall country. Gilliatt attended Queen's College in London before earning a scholarship to attend Bennington College in Vermont.
Gilliatt married neurologist Roger Gilliatt in 1954, and carried on using his name after their divorce. Gilliatt was then married to playwright John Osborne from 1963 to 1968, living at 31 Chester Square in central London in a house designed by architect Sir Hugh Casson. She gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Nolan, whom Osborne later disowned. Following her divorce from Osborne, she was romantically involved with Mike Nichols and Edmund Wilson. The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby was her companion for many years. Gilliatt died from alcoholism in 1993.
- "The 44th Academy Awards | 1972". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- Weinman, Sarah (13 January 2012). "The Other Film Critic at The New Yorker". Slate. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- Shoals, Bethlehem (March–April 2012). "The Auteurs' Caretaker". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- McCreadie, Marsha (1983). Women on Film: The Critical Eye. New York: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-03-062768-2. OCLC 565301141.
- Mitgang, Herbert (12 May 1979). "Greene Calls Profile of Him In New Yorker Inaccurate". The New York Times. p. 12. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- Comden, Betty (14 May 1993). "Obituary: Penelope Gilliatt". The Independent. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
- Malcolm, Derek (17 October 2000). "Obituary: Vincent Canby". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2019.