Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (4 stars)

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

Stig Björkman's divine documentary captures the very essence of its superstar subject

One of the most captivating creations of Hollywood's dream factory, but never controlled by it, Swedish star Ingrid Bergman is now the subject of a documentary which makes shrewd use of the wealth of material at its disposal; much of it saved by Bergman herself. Far more than an excuse to relive her greatest movie hits, the film basks in her romantic nature and poetic turn of phrase.

Directed by Bergman's countryman Stig Björkman and beautifully narrated by Alicia Vikander, another fellow Swede, it has been lovingly culled from home movies, diaries and letters to friends. The film benefits enormously from the contribution of all four of Bergman's children including, of course, Isabella Rossellini, in delightfully idiosyncratic form. Björkman and his editor Dominika Daubenbüchel have a gift for evocatively compiled montage, while the score by master composer Michael Nyman envelops proceedings with great elegance and wonderful drama.

In Her Own Words builds a clear picture of the formation of Bergman's character: from a father who taught her to live and love through a lens, to an upbringing marked by extraordinary tragedy which led her to seek solace in fantasy. We witness her entry into Hollywood ('A strange but immensely exciting environment') and her passion for her craft ('If you took acting away from me, I would stop breathing'). Even when she's wracked by scandal and ravaged by cancer, her lack of regrets and undiminished lust for life is admirable ('I want to die with my boots on').

The tone remains meticulously respectful as Björkman delivers a discerning appraisal of an endlessly intriguing, frequently contradictory individual. Bergman's routinely abandoned children are largely sanguine about her long absences, finding their mother to be immense fun yet noting that she needed to be taught to lighten up on set – and by Alfred Hitchcock no less. With her onscreen poise countered by offscreen recklessness, she was, in the fitting words of Isabella, a woman who took films more seriously than life.

Limited release from Fri 12 Aug.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Sweden
  • 1h 54min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Stig Björkman
  • Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, Pia Lindström
  • UK release: 12 August 2016

Respectful but discerning documentary about one of Hollywood's greatest stars, culled from home movies, diaries, letters from friends and contributions from her children (including Isabella Rossellini in delightfully idiosyncratic form). A shrewd and elegant look at a woman who took films more seriously than life.