What’s on your mind? ‘Playing for Time’ with Vanessa Redgrave

‘What’s on your mind’ on Exchange, part 3. Apologies for the poor audio quality. ‘Playing for Time’ with Vanessa Redgrave and data protection is discussed.

Playing For Time is a 1980 CBS television film, written by Arthur Miller and Fania Fénelon, based on Fénelon’s autobiography, The Musicians of Auschwitz. Vanessa Redgrave stars as acclaimed musician Fania Fénelon.

Playing For Time was based on Fénelon’s experience as a female prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she and a group of classical musicians were spared in return for performing music for their captors. The film was also adapted as a play by Arthur Miller.

This was the last film of Daniel Mann, who co-directed with Joseph Sargent.



Fénelon, a Jewish singer-pianist, is sent with other prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a crowded train during World War II. After having their belongings and clothes taken and their hair cut short, the prisoners are processed and enter the camp. Fénelon is recognized as being a famous musician and she finds that she will be able to avoid hard manual labor and survive longer by becoming a member of the prison’s female orchestra, Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz.

In the process, she strikes up a close relationship with Alma Rosé, the musical group’s leader, as well as the other members of the band. Realizing that the musicians get better treatment than other prisoners, Fania convinces the guards and members of the orchestra that another prisoner she had befriended, Marianne, is actually a talented singer. Although Marianne performs poorly at her audition, she is allowed to join the orchestra. Playing for the Nazis, however, robs the women of much of their dignity and most of them often questioned whether remaining alive was worth the abuse they constantly suffer.


The cast rehearsed together in New York and subsequently filmed in Pennsylvania on a six week shooting schedule. During the half-way stage of shooting the producers decided to replace Joseph Sargent with Daniel Mann as director.[1]

It is also notable as one of the first film productions whereby an ensemble of actresses shaved their heads for the sake of their roles.[1]

Casting controversy

The producer Linda Yellen was determined to cast Redgrave in the lead role at a time when the actress was facing protests from Jewish organizations for her criticism of Zionism and pro-Palestinian position. Subsequently security was required at rehearsals and Yellen’s office was broken into. There were further complications when Fenelon herself appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes arguing against Redgrave’s casting and suggested Jane Fonda as a replacement. During the production Fenelon continued to criticize Redgrave’s politics on her speaking tours across the USA. Actresses on the project had also been contacted with the view of making a statement against Redgrave’s casting. They refused and instead released a press release denouncing blacklisting and expressed their desire to work with Redgrave.

As a result of Redgrave’s political views, the film was initially banned in Israel. Although Redgrave appealed to Jordan’s culture minister to buy the rights to the film to show on Jordanian television. She wished that both Arabs and Israelis should have the opportunity to see the film.



  1. 1
    Barbara Says:

    Why don’t you just leave a link to the Wikipedia page? It is not usually customary to copy holus bolus another page into your blog.

  2. 2
    Barbara Says:

    I don’t know why this comment appeared here. I meant it to refer to the section on the Beatles above.

  3. 3
    Dee Says:

    Jan 2014, St A it is about time, I find forgiveness is always the best thing, to move forward. No more tears, is a song.

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