• Dark Star

  • A Biography of Vivien Leigh
  • By: Alan Strachan
  • Narrated by: Alasdair Buchan
  • Length: 15 hrs and 40 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (76 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents Dark Star by Alan Strachan, read by Alasdair Buchan.

Winner of the Society for Theatre Research Book Prize 2020

Vivien Leigh was perhaps the most iconic actress of the 20th century. As Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche Du Bois she took on some of the most pivotal roles in cinema history. 

Yet she was also a talented theatre actress with West End and Broadway plaudits to her name. In this ground-breaking new biography, Alan Strachan provides a completely new full-life portrait of Leigh, covering both her professional and personal life. Using previously unseen sources from her archive, recently acquired by the V&A, he sheds new light on her fractious relationship with Laurence Olivier, based on their letters and diaries, as well as on the bipolar disorder which so affected her later life and work. 

Revealing new aspects of her early life as well as providing glimpses behind-the-scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, this book provides the essential and comprehensive life-story of one of the 20th century’s greatest actresses.

Front cover: Angus McBean Collection, MS Thr 581. © Houghton Library, Harvard University.

©2020 Alan Strachan (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic Reviews

"What makes this account of a familiar story outstanding is that Strachan wins the reader’s trust. As an experienced man of the theatre, he suggests, qualifies and adds interesting views of his own." (The Spectator)

"[Vivien Leigh’s] life, lived to the full at every second, will never be better told than it is in these pages." (The Sunday Times)

"A gripping new biography." (The Daily Mail

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What listeners say about Dark Star

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

So much more to this actress and kind friend

I have seen and read many superficial accounts of her life. I did not know of her many stage projects that were so successful and her struggles with mental illness and lung disease. She worked very hard on her craft and being a consistent, kind individual.
She was devastated when she ruined relationships and projects due to her loss of mental stability and tuberculosis.. Still, so many friends , relatives, ex husbands and professional associates loved and admired her and saw her unique artistry. It was a fascinating listen.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Most complete fair biography.

Thanks to the author for telling a truth I've always suspected. VL was the brains and Olivier was just an actor who was not even smart enough to recognize she had loads more talent. Her biggest failing was loving him.

13 people found this helpful

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Fascinating, complex, and well written biography of a great star

An incredible biography of an incredible star. Although dark at times, as the title warns, the story benefits from Strachan’s nuanced understanding of the ups and downs of Leigh’s career and condition, providing a complex and balanced depiction of her that feels fair to her legacy.

It’s only drawback are portions that overfocus on Olivier, who has plenty of biographies written about him, and feel like pull away from Leigh’s story.

3 people found this helpful

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great biography of a great star!

loved it, although I wish the reader would've done some research on how people's names are pronounced.

1 person found this helpful

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Treasured Listening

14 hours long. It is fascinating to the max. I learned from the author that so was Vivien Leigh during her remarkable life and career. The time spands golden decades of British theater and film, weaving in countless persons in hers and Laurence Olivier's circle. I'm not sure the story would be appealing to a reader not eager to be submerged in that setting. Especially for 14 hours. Narration is very good. I slowed the word speed in order clarify the British accent.

The book's content is immaculately researched, honest yet nonjudgemental toward the wild drive it took for Vivien Leigh and Olivier to become legendary theatrical stars. Her remarkable intelligence and awareness is described in excellent depth so as to convince readers that she absorbed everything she encountered, alchemized it internally, and gave it back with love. The vast details of her choice of roles, her preparation and performances are stunning. Her gifts were eventually accelerated into bi-polar psychotic episodes, in a time when the mental disease was hardly understood for what it is- involuntary.

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Profile Image for MRS M R SOUTO
  • MRS M R SOUTO
  • 10-17-20

Too long...

This book would be the perfect read if shorter. I lost interest two thirds of the way through...

1 person found this helpful

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  • polonius
  • 08-15-22

nice story

big English words through out was boring in places as long-winded narrative not bad. Her life was intriguing

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Profile Image for Goldilocks
  • Goldilocks
  • 06-22-22

Best biography on Vivien Leigh

This is the best biography I have read on Vivien Leigh, a fantastic actress and fascinating woman. You can tell that the author has gone through length to research her life and to dig into her many remaining correspondence between Olivier and herself providing a real inside of their relationship. The only thing I can criticise is that the author does not seem too keen on Olivier and often describes him as a highly selfish and dramatic person. This is exasperated by the performance and the partly mocking tone when reading Olivier’s love letters. However, overall a fantastic read!