Bergman was best known internationally for his screen canon, encompassing a total of 54 films over a 40-year career. These included his Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winners The Virgin Spring (1961), Through a Glass Darkly (1962) and his last major feature release Fanny and Alexander (1984) as well as Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician, Prison, Winter Light, The Silence, Shame, Face to Face, Autumn Sonata, Hour of the Wolf, Scenes from a Marriage and his version of the Mozart opera The Magic Flute.
Throughout his successful screen career, Bergman continued to work regularly on stage, helming some 126 theatre productions over the years. He was well known for his reinterpretations of classic texts by Shakespeare as well as Ibsen, Chekhov, Schiller, Moliere, Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and his compatriot August Strindberg.
Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on 14 July 1918 in Uppsala, Sweden, the son of a Lutheran clergyman, Bergman entered the University of Stockholm in 1937 to study literature but was soon distracted by his involvement with an amateur dramatics group. He abandoned his degree to pursue his career. In the 1940s, he ran regional theatres in first Halsingborg and then Gotheborg before moving on to Malmo’s city theatre. From 1963 to 1966, he acted as executive director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm and, from 1977 to 1984, held the same position at the Residenz Theater in Munich, Germany.
In this country, Bergman famously directed Maggie Smith in a 1970 English-language production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, performed by members of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre company, including Smith’s husband, the late Robert Stephens, at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre. Smith has said the production, replicating Bergman’s Stockholm staging, was the favourite of her career.
In 1987, producer Thelma Holt brought Bergman’s productions of Hamlet and Strindberg’s Miss Julie to the National Theatre on the South Bank as part of her acclaimed International Theatre Festival. Next year, Trevor Nunn will return to his roots at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre to direct a new adaptation of Bergman’s 1973 film, originally a TV series, Scenes from a Marriage (See News, 17 Jul 2007).
In 1995, Bergman’s productions of The Winter’s Tale and Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade for Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre – where he continued to mount two shows annually – transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of a major New York Bergman Festival, which also comprised restrospectives of his screen work. Bergman himself once said of his split loyalties: “The theatre is like a faithful wife. The film is the great adventure - the costly, exacting mistress.”
Ingmar Bergman was married five times – his last wife Ingrid von Rosen died in 1995 – and also had a long relationship with actress Liv Ullman, with whom he had a daughter, Linn, in 1966, the last of his nine children.
- by Terri Paddock