Felicity Kendal, part two

Posted by Heather Sanderson on

This week we continue "chatting" about Felicity Kendal, who is familiar to MPT viewers through her starring roles in Rosemary & Thyme and Good Neighbors. As good as she is in those shows, Kendal's real talent is in the delivery of Shakespeare's language - hardly surprising considering she grew up touring around India with her parents' Shakespeare troupe, Shakespeareana.

Felicity Kendal
With eldest son Charley, left, "boyfriend" Michael
Rudman and their son, Jacob.

When Kendal turned 17, she rebelled. Going against her parents' wishes she bowed out of the troupe, in which she'd been a member since a baby, and she returned to England. Her father was furious.

"You stupid little b****r. You'll marry the first clot you meet and end up in hell with mortgages and misery," recalls Kendall. "He just couldn't understand why I would want to opt out of this bohemian lifestyle he had created for his family and go back to England where I would have to fight for every role."

For the first year Kendal was back in Britain, it seemed her father was right. She struggled to get work and was almost on the point of admitting defeat and returning to England. Instead she decided to accept whatever job she was offered - it turned out to be a terrible West End play that closed after just seven days. Kendal eventually managed to get work in a two person television play called The Mayfly and the Frog, appearing opposite John Gielgud. Another flop followed; the role of a lesbian in a West End play in which the bikini clad Kendal had to mud wrestle! At least her reviews were good!

Felicity Kendal
Kendal's first husband, Drewe Henley.

In the meantime, while striving to make it as an actress, Kendal married. She was just 21 years old. Her husband, Drewe Henley, was older, had been married before and was in Kendal's eyes much more sophisticated. Just months after they married though, Henley, began suffering from bouts of manic depression.

"We went from bliss and glamour to total horror," says Kendal.

Henley's illness, which came on immediately after he concluded filming Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977 in which he played Garven Dreis, was terrifying. He was violent against himself and deeply troubled.

Felicity Kendal
"Tom and Barbara" in The Good Life.

"One of the most difficult things is accepting the person you love has a problem, and you can't do anything to help," says Kendal. "You try and reason, if we had another baby, if we moved house, if we went on holiday, it will make a difference. So you join in this half lie. You do your bit and it doesn't make any difference. It was very dark, and some of that darkness attaches itself to you."

The marriage lasted 11 years, during which time the couple had a son, Charlie, and Kendal became a public figure when she was cast in The Good Life (Good Neighbors).

"It was really hard doing The Good Life while my first marriage was disintegrating. The show was the very opposite of what was going on in my home life," remembers Kendal.

Felicity Kendal
Kendal with Tom Stoppard.

Kendal's second marriage was to American theatre director Michael Rudman, with whom she had a son, Jacob. The marriage broke up in 1991 when Kendal had an affair with playwright Tom Stoppard, who left his wife for her. The relationship lasted seven years. Then in 1998, Kendal went back to Rudman and although they never remarried the couple is still together.

Not long after Kendal and Rudman married, her beloved sister, Jenifer died, at age 51, leaving a 16-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old. Jennifer had remained in India after marrying the Indian actor, Shashi Kapoor. Her death had a profound effect on Kendal. Despite their 13 year age gap, the two were extremely close. Not a day of their lives went by that they weren't in communication, if not in person then either by letter or phone.

Felicity Kendal
Felicity with her sister Jennifer in 1982,
who was only 51 when she died of cancer.

"It changed me," says Kendal of her sister's death. "She was all my friends, my sister and mother in a way because she was older than me and looked after me a lot of the time."

Now it's Kendal who is doing the looking after. Along with her own children, and grandchildren, Kendal is a surrogate mom and grandmom to her sister's children and grandchildren. It's a role she revels in and Kendal does as much as she can for the children, including at least two school runs a week.

"I love being available to help," says the family matriarch, "but when I am working I can disappear for months." Hopefully Kendal won't disappear from our scenes for too long!

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117