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"> Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for 1971's Sunday Bloody Sunday.
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.
In addition to her criticism, Gilliatt wrote short stories, novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays. Most notably, she wrote the screenplay for 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), The Cutting Edge, A State of Change (1967), and Moral Matters (1983). Her short stories were collected in Splendid Lives, Nobody's Business (1972), and Come Back If It Doesn't Get Better. Gilliatt also published two non-fiction books on film directors. Jean Renoir, on the French director of that name, was published in 1975, and Tati, on Jacques Tati, was published in 1976.
Gilliatt's novel 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.
Born in London, Gilliatt's father, Cyril Conner, was originally a barrister. Her mother was Marie Stephanie Douglass. Both came from Newcastle upon Tyne, and divorced after Gilliatt's birth. Gilliatt had an upper-middle class upbringing in Northumberland, where her father 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 attendBennington 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.
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