Drama

Ingrid Bergman as the Ignoble Hedda Gabler

Ingrid Bergman gloats about her success with men. Image: YouTube
Ingrid Bergman gloats about her success with men. Image: YouTube

Really, there is no reason to like the fictional character Hedda Gabler.

She’s vain, contemptuous and competitive. She’s not someone with whom you could let down your guard or trust with confidences.

Yet, she can be witty and charming. She’s knowledgeable and smart – and that is the problem. Hedda Gabler is too smart for her own good.

Hedda Gabler, the woman and the play, comes to us courtesy of Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), a Norwegian playwright who also wrote Peer Gynt and A Doll’s House. Ibsen completed Hedda Gabler in 1890; it premiered in 1891 to negative reviews.

The play is centred around an unhappily married woman who manipulates those around her.

Hedda Gabler is still considered to be one of the Great dramatic female roles of the stage. She is a complex character: she chafes at convention yet doesn’t have the guts to live an unconventional life.

She’s a self-centered woman without purpose, someone who must find ways to amuse herself. This makes her dangerous.

Michael Redgrave plays Bergman's clueless husband. Image: Best TV Movies
Michael Redgrave plays Bergman’s clueless husband. Image: Best TV Movies

On paper, the play Hedda Gabler seems rather ridiculous; the whole thing depends on the performances of incredibly talented actors. Fortunately, a 1962 BBC production recruited some of the best.

Michael Redgrave is Hedda’s husband, a brilliant scholar but a dunce of a spouse. He is a man who spent much of his honeymoon researching historical texts and sees nothing unusual with it.

Ralph Richardson plays a long-time friend who is an untrustworthy opportunist, but is someone with whom Hedda can flirt and speak candidly about her marriage.

Trevor Howard is a former boyfriend and Hedda’s main preoccupation. He is still in love with Hedda and she continues to encourage him, even in front her husband. But when this suitor gets a little carried away, Hedda’s allegiance to convention kicks in. “All the same,” she tells him, “no unfaithfulness.”

Because she’s a complicated character, and the one upon whom everything hangs, you need a strong, charismatic actress like Ingrid Bergman to play the title role of Hedda.

Bergman tells Trevor Howard not to get any Big Ideas. Image: YouTube
Bergman tells Trevor Howard not to get any Big Ideas. Image: YouTube

Hedda is in a tough spot. Since her beloved father’s death, she lives adrift in a society with pre-set roles for women, none of which suit her Situation In Life. She doesn’t have the funds to be a society hostess, nor the opportunity to manage her husband’s career, nor the courage to live as she pleases.

Bergman convinces us of her character’s desperate unhappiness: Hedda thinks the only thing left in life is to bore herself to death. She laughs at the thought of a monotonous life, then starts to cry and nearly becomes hysterical. “What am I to do with myself all day long?” she moans.

Only Bergman can tell us why Hedda would marry an oaf like Redgrave’s character and make it believable. Her description of their courtship is not romantic; she describes her hand pistol with more tenderness. Even so, Bergman reveals some satisfaction with this marital conquest.

She’s deceptive, too. When an old school chum (Dilys Hamlett) pays a visit, Bergman exudes a charming warmth. However, her hospitality lasts only as long as it takes to mine some juicy gossip. Then, when Hamlett says she’s deserting her husband for Another Man, Bergman stiffens with disapproval.

Hedda, it seems, is satisfied with hypocrisy, but heaven forbid she be bored. It sounds preposterous, but Bergman makes us empathize with it.

We recommend this BBC version of Hedda Gabler because it doesn’t feel “stage-y” and the acting is very, very good – especially Ingrid Bergman, who is at her dangerous best.

  • Note: For scholarly analysis of Hedda Gabler, click HERE.

Hedda Gabler: starring Ingrid Bergman, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson. Directed by Alex Segal. Written by Philip H. Reisman Jr. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1962, B&W, 75 mins.

This post is part of the The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Click HERE to see the fab entries.

Ingrid Bergman

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26 thoughts on “Ingrid Bergman as the Ignoble Hedda Gabler

  1. Thanks for recommending this! We read the play in high school, but I remembered almost nothing about it until I started reading your post. I’m looking forward to revisiting it, especially with such a marvelous cast.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think this is a perfect cast for Hedda Gabler. Everyone is a bit older (I saw a production where all the cast members were quite young), but I think this age group suits the material better. I highly recommend this BBC version.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been sitting at my local library for a long time and I’ve always been a bit…not exactly leery, but not exactly sure the plot sounded interesting, either…but your analysis of the performances (especially Bergman’s) sounds much more intriguing than the summary provided on the back of the DVD cover!

    Maybe they needed you to write it up for them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome piece Ruth! I saw this film last year and I must say I didn’t remember exactly what was the story (and I didn’t remember Ralph Richardson was in it :O ), however I do remember Ingrid was very very good in it as you said. This was a very original choice for the blogathon and you made a very interesting reflection about it. I hope it will convince people to see it! Thanks for your participation to the blogathon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Virginie! Ingrid is terrific as Hedda Gabler, isn’t she? For me, she’s now the gold standard for this role.

      Thank you for hosting this blogathon for the second year in a row. Ingrid deserves all these wonderful tributes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hedda Gabler sounds like a very interesting character. Someone with time on their hands and no purpose – definitely a recipe for disaster. It also sounds like Ingrid Bergman’s performance is what makes this movie worth watching. Is it a movie you kind of have to be in the mood for? Thanks for your interesting insights into her character, Ruth! I will keep my eye out for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha – yes, an ambitious person with no sense of purpose is definitely one to watch out for.

      You do have to be in the mood for this one. At least, I have to be. No spoilers, but the ending is pretty grim. However, if you want to see the play, I recommend watching this version. Ingrid Bergman is outstanding.

      Like

  5. Great review, as always! It amazes me that Ingrid can play any role to perfection. I know she did a splendid job iwth Hedda, but I can’t wait to confirm it – in fact, I had never heard of this production until now!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Oh, and you still haven’t signed up for the blogathon, Ruth! We miss you!
    Kissses,
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you get the chance to see this one. Ingrid B. is, as you say, perfect.

      I’m sorry I can’t participate in the Circus Blogathon. 😦 It’s a terrific idea & I LOVE the banners. I have a big project in November & won’t be doing as much blogging.

      Like

  6. Thanks for this fascinating article. I have never seen this film, but I’ve heard of it. After reading this, I will definitely track it down. Wait, I just discovered it’s on Youtube. Will watch it soon.

    I also invite you to take a look at my article for the blogathon. My post is rather outlandish, but just for something different.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/what-if-ingrid-bergman-was-on-bewitched/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is not the type of movie I normally watch, Ruth but, I must admit, with that cast, how can I not see it? Besides, I’ve always loved Ms Bergman and your review could not be better. Looks like it’s another one for Netflix. Thanks, Ruth.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have a gift for first lines. (Take that as an extreme complement. I collect them.) 😉

    “she chafes at convention yet doesn’t have the guts to live an unconventional life.” Love this review. The film is going on our watch list. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like the way, you say “.. Ingrid Bergman … is at her dangerous best”!!
    I haven’t seen or read this play, but can imagine Ingrid Bergman doing justice to this role. She’s superb in bold and complicated character roles. And what a superb cast, including Michael Redgrave & Trevor Howard!!
    I read Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’, in my early teens, and fell in love with the play. Ibsen was sort of a feminist, portraying independent minded women!!! Unfortunately I never got to study him, in school or University. I’d have loved to.
    Thanks for posting the youtube link. I ought to watch this television film sometime. Great review, as always!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I’ve only ever seen Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House on stage, but I do agree with you re: Ibsen. His heroines were not mere window dressing!

      I hope you get the chance to see this. I have a feeling you’d really enjoy the performances.

      Liked by 1 person

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