Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Richardson Version

One of the greatest theatre actresses of our time dies in a freak accident far too young, and someone like Dick Cheney gets to live out a long life. The universe can be a pretty wretched place, can't it?

I'll never forget, late one night in London, catching Ken Russell's insane film Gothic, about the Byron-Shelley circle and the writing of Frankenstein. Natasha Richardson was an excellent Mary Shelley, a young Gabriel Byrne was a randy Lord Byron, can't remember who played Percy Shelley. Not that that was anywhere near her finest achievement.

It's impossible to forget watching a DVD of her Ophelia at the National Theatre, and another of her Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her most recent films, I think, were The White Countess and Asylum, both excellent and both featuring a fine performance from her in particular. In some ways, it seemed like she was just coming into her own. It's a bummer I'll never see her onstage; I'd always hoped to, especially since I've seen two members of the Redgrave-Richardson theatrical dynasty in the flesh: Corin Redgrave as King Lear, and Vanessa Redgrave as Hecuba.

It's a shame we'll never get to see her as Cleopatra, or Hecuba, or Lady Bracknell.

From what we've all heard, it sounds like fiery radical ultra-bohemian Vanessa Redgrave raised a pair of extremely grounded, sane, and sensible daughters in Natasha and Joely. Amazingly, Natasha Richardson seemed to have a quality marriage with Liam Neeson.

Again, the unfairness of it. Natasha Richardson, probably our greatest theatrical actress, dies in a freak accident at the age of 45. People who contribute nothing to the enrichment of the world, people who in fact do nothing but destroy things and preside over the deaths of thousands, get to live out a full life.

The Guardian's theatre critic Michael Billington with a remembrance here.

And here's a photo retrospective from the Daily Beast.

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