I remember being handed Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future novel A Handmaid’s Tale in high school English and promptly trying to figure out a way to get out of reading it, seeing as Atwood’s novels are dreary ( her essays are anything but). So I tracked down a tape of the film at the local video store and watched. It was dark, dreary, dystopian, like Atwood, but there was this young actress, luminescent even in the red burqua they made the handmaids wear.
That was Natasha Richardson.
By all accounts, she was like that in life- boisterous, warm. with a throaty laugh and an energy that consumed the space she inhabited. She convinced confirmed bachelor Liam Neeson to marry, and their nearly fifteen year marriage was one of the most sane, normal, human relationships in Hollywood history. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different- he, a working class lad from Ireland who fell into acting after a career as a boxer and a fork lift operator for Guinness ( that, my friends, is very Irish). She was the member of a famous theatrical family whose legend predates modern acting, even film. Her mother was an Oscar winning actress and activist. Her father was an Oscar winning film maker and well known rogue. Her uncle, her aunt, her sister- they all act. It’s the family trade. And she was wonderful at it.
It doesn’t take much for Natasha Richardson to worm her way into your heart by acting- the performance she gave as Patty Hearst is the stuff of legend. But her best performances never happened on screen. There was the electric 1993 production of Anna Christie, in which she and Neeson devastatingly portrayed lust while falling in love behind the scenes. Her now legendary turn as the luminous Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes’ reconfigured Cabaret, for which she was awarded a Tony award. Her most famous film role was that as Lindsay Lohan’s mom in the remake of The Parent Trap, where she was amusing and charming and warm. It was my daughter’s favorite movie for years.
As a fan of film and theater, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Ms. Richardson yesterday. She passed away in New York, after being transferred from Montreal, suffering head trauma after a fallon a ski hill. She was only 45 years old. My heart goes out to Mr. Neeson, their two sons, Micheal and Daniel, her mother, sister Joely, and the extended family and friends of this astonishingly beautiful, gifted woman.