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Addio, Virginia Dignam
It was a gloriously sunny day but there was a capacity crowd in the East Chapel in Golders Green Crematorium, in north London, for the Celebration of your life, Virginia Dignam, sometime actress, published poetess, film reviewer on The Morning Star, and long-serving hard-working Honorary Secretary of the UK Critics' Circle("a shrivel of critics" you used to call us, in your pert and often impertinent way).It would have been your 87th birthday, but you'd left us, after a sudden, short illness, on the eve of Cannes's 65th. Many colleagues sent affectionate regrets from the Croisette. As Viriginia Lewis, you came from the Welsh valleys, went up in the world (or on the stage at least) when you married into Kirby's Flying Ballet- divorce from Derek left you with two children; marriage to the distinguished Shakespearean actor Mark Dignam brought two more of your own productions, and a wealth of professional and personal friends.
We first met, I feel sure, at the Berlin Film Festival, in the Wintergarten inside the historic Literaturhaus.Peter Bogdanovich was playing a white piano, you were at the bar with a films buyer from the BBC, and I had just been selected by the Sunday Times as a 'New Critic'.It was one of a string of film receptions we enjoyed around Europe, which you graced and enlivened.Your wit and wisdom were immediately apparent, and I came to appreciate the perceptiveness of your reviews, your unforgettable good (if often cheeky) humour, and your unfailing championing of talent, whether on the page or on the stage.A fixture at press screenings in London and foreign festivals, which you tirelessly put into weekly bulletins for our benefit, you often served on juries, and I was honoured when you accepted to serve on one at my own festival in Oxford, where you sat with Harlan Kennedy, a fine American critic, and- I think- Bertice Reading, the jazz singer and some-time screen partner of Gerard Depardieu, and the only person who ever rivalled you for the exuberance and ebullience of her laugh.I was honoured also when you encouraged my invitation to join the Critics' Circle, after, I think, only a decade of writing and broadcasting film reviews. Any panel you served on, any programme you spoke on, benefitted from your lively and well-informed views. You lived in an historic farmhouse in the shadow of an overpass, where horror-film crews damaged the carpets;Boy George's acolytes frolicked at the bottom of your garden parties.I feel sure you said you'd lodged Dylan Thomas, and lent him money.
The service was not sad- there were Welsh hymns, a lovely lullaby played by Sophia Dignam, the opening of Under Milk Wood,an indignant, unscripted interruption from an actor you'd helped,one of your own poems read by Sally Lewis, Piaf's Milord, and- as the perfect finale- Liza Minnelli'slife-enhancing soundrack of Cabaret.
I did not go back to the Welsh wake, which I hope is still going on. After you had retired from regular reviewing and festival go-going, although I had seen you at the launch of Vapiano Southwark, you had often invited me for a Chinese lunch sometime, but that time never came. So on 25th May 2012 I went to the Oriental Star for some roast duck and I hope you were there in spirit. A lot of laughter has left London with your passing, Ginny, and fewer and fewer reviewers remain who love film and the mirrors it holds to life with your passion and understanding.
The Bulletin Board
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