Kean, Marie


Kean, Marie
(1922–1994)
   Considered by some to be one of the finest Irish actresses of her time, Marie Kean studied at Loreto College and the Gaiety School of Acting. She enjoyed a long, successful career on the stage and screen. Kean was best known to American audiences for her roles in the films BARRY LYNDON (1975), in which she portrayed Barry’s (Ryan O’Neal) mother, and David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970).
   Marie Kean held STANLEY KUBRICK in the highest esteem and thought nothing of doing a scene 30 times. “I was well used to that working for David Lean and Roman Polanski,” she said. In Barry Lyndon, Kean offers a restrained yet impassioned performance as Mrs. Barry, a woman of intense determination. Barry’s mother, we learn in the film’s opening narration, has devoted her life to the memory of her departed husband, as well as to her son’s well-being. A largely passive figure during the first half of the film,Mrs. Barry asserts her influence more pronouncedly after Redmond has married Lady Lyndon (MARISA BERENSON). She discreetly but firmly urges Redmond to obtain a title, so that he will be protected financially should any misfortune befall his wife and benefactor. Later, when Barry and Lady Lyndon are incapacitated by grief after the death of their son, Mrs. Barry seizes the opportunity to make a power play. With Lord Bullingdon (LEON VITALI) already gone from the household, she takes it upon herself to dismiss Reverend Runt (Murray Melvin), thus diminishing the forces that would rally round her daughter-in-law against the neglectful and adulterous Barry. Unwittingly,Mrs. Barry thus invites the vengeful return of Lord Bullingdon and the downfall of her son,“Mr. Redmond Barry. ” Still, ever the staunch matriarch, she remains at Barry’s side, the one person who has stood by him through all his successes and failures.
   Marie Kean joined the Abbey Theatre Company in 1949, an affiliation that she would maintain for the rest of her life. There, from 1949 to 1951, she appeared in productions of Juno and the Paycock,The Plough and the Stars, and The Playboy of the Western World. Later, in London, she worked with Peter Brook’s company, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company. One of her most celebrated stage performances (and her personal favorite) was the role of Winnie in a 1963 production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, in which she appears buried up to the neck in sand. In 1971, as part of the Dublin Festival, she appeared in a one-woman show called Soft Morning, City, playing the type of ardent, downtrodden character that had become her specialty. In 1970, London’s Stage and Television Today called Kean “one of the most impressive Irish actresses to emerge in recent years . . . an artist of considerable emotional depth and theatrical command. ” The following year, John Lambert of the Christian Science Monitor called her “possibly the best living Irish actress. ” Her final film role was in John Huston’s swan song, The Dead (1987).
   References
   ■ “Limelight,” Stage and Television Today, August 20, 1970, 10;
   ■ “A Marathon Part,” The Stage, December 12, 1963;
   ■ “Marie Kean (‘Auntie Mae’),” press notes for Danny Boy (1982);
   ■ “Marie Kean” (obituary), Daily Telegraph, April 18, 1994, p. 21;
   ■ “Stanley Kubrick’s Irish Odyssey,” press notes for Barry Lyndon (1975).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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