Legendary British actress Vivien Leigh (Marcy Lafferty), only a shell of her former self, arrives on an almost bare London stage in 1960 to be interviewed by the press. Leigh, as written and performed by Lafferty, is relentlessly driven to explain the sequences of her life — her orchestrated rise from a nonentity to an international star, her all-devouring love for Sir Laurence Olivier and her tragic descent into madness. Though Lafferty comes up short in projecting the tangible sexual tension that seemed to emanate from Leigh’s very fiber, “The Last Press Conference” remains a tour-de-force sojourn into the tortured soul of an artist who could overcome everything but her own conscience.
Using the actress’s own words, Lafferty’s Leigh fluidly jumps from present to past, from anecdote to performance, from lucid reason to uncontrollable delusion as she surveys the fragmented moments of her existence. As Lafferty states it, Vivien Leigh can be summed up by three defining roles: Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone With the Wind,” Blanche duBois from “Streetcar Named Desire” and Lady O, the wife of Olivier. Lafferty, under the light-handed guidance of John Edward Blankenchip, is an excellent storyteller, and she offers fascinating recollections of the legendary show business icons who aided in Leigh’s triumphs and abetted her tragedies.
The saga of “Gone With the Wind” commands much of Leigh’s memory. She describes, as if explaining the maneuvers of a great military campaign, her utter determination to get the role after reading Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as a young unknown in London. Lafferty coyly and humorously guides the audience through the serendipitous two-year process that eventually led her to the 20th Century Fox backlot “burning of Atlanta” set.
Descriptions of the often torturous months of making the film are intertwined with recollections of the early years in Leigh’s overpowering love affair with Olivier. Ironically, Lafferty’s Leigh states that in her campaign to win Olivier’s love she planted the seeds that would eventually lead to her mental collapse. As she explains it, the lives they destroyed (his wife’s and her first husband’s) cast a shadow of guilt over their relationship that never abated even though their subsequent marriage and shared work ascended them to the status of the world’s “theater royals.”
As Leigh’s personal career begins to wane, Lafferty vividly personifies the actress’ bouts with depression, maniacally detailing the crumbling of her marriage to Oliver as she exhausts his abilities to deal with her. She identifies her portrayal of Blanche duBois, for which she won her second Academy Award in 1951, with her own deteriorating mental state. In describing Leigh’s fragile state of mind she says, “When I see the light at the end of the tunnel it is an oncoming freight train.”