Richardson, Natasha Jane
- Melanie Williams
Natasha Jane Richardson (1963–2009)
Richardson, Natasha Jane (1963–2009), actress, was born on 11 May 1963 at the London Welbeck Hospital, 27 Welbeck Street, Marylebone, London, the elder daughter of the actress Vanessa Redgrave (b. 1937) and her husband Cecil Antonio (Tony) Richardson (1928–1991), film director. At the time of her birth registration her parents lived at 30 St Peter's Square, Hammersmith. Born into one of the most celebrated twentieth-century British acting dynasties, she was the granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave (1908–1985) and Rachel Kempson (1910–2003), and the niece of Corin Redgrave (1939–2010) and Lynn Redgrave (1943–2010). Her younger sister Joely Richardson (b. 1965) and cousin Jemma Redgrave (b. 1965) also pursued acting careers. Indeed, for Natasha Richardson becoming an actress might seem more a matter of predestination than choice.
Richardson's first screen appearance was as a child at a wedding in a film starring her mother and directed by her father, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), but her parents parted not long after the filming and she thereafter divided her time between her mother's London household and her father's Provençal estate. (She had a younger half-brother, Carlo Gabriel Nero, (b. 1969), from her mother's relationship with the actor Franco Nero; he was later a screenwriter and film director.) She was educated at the Lycée Français in London and then at St Paul's Girls' School. Her discovery, at the age of eleven, of her father's bisexuality was difficult for her to cope with 'because of the social stigma' (The Independent, 2 September 2005). By the time she started at St Paul's, she had ambitions to become an actor and at seventeen she auditioned successfully for the Central School of Speech and Drama without disclosing her family background, an indication of her unease at being overshadowed by her family connections. After graduating she worked at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and she also gained her first film and television roles, in Every Picture Tells a Story and Ellis Island (both 1984). Shakespeare and Chekhov dominated her stage roles in 1985, which included Ophelia in Hamlet (Young Vic), Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park), playing in Three Sisters alongside her mother Vanessa and her aunt Lynn (one of only a few times she did so in her professional career), and as Nina in The Seagull (Queen's Theatre). The latter role won her the Plays and Players most promising newcomer award for that year and sealed her status as a new star on the London stage. Through it she also met her first husband, the stage, film, and television producer Robert Michael John Fox (b. 1952), himself a member of a British theatrical dynasty, including most famously his actor brothers Edward Fox (b. 1937) and James Fox (b. 1939). They married in 1990 in New York.
Richardson's film career also flourished from the mid-1980s onwards, with roles in Gothic (1986) and A Month in the Country (1987), and the title role in Patty Hearst (1988), followed by another film for the same director, Paul Schrader, an adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel, The Comfort of Strangers (1988). These film roles, along with two key television performances of 1993, Catharine Holly in Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer and Zelda Fitzgerald in Zelda, demonstrated her facility for playing women in extreme emotional situations or women struggling to maintain their sanity. One of her cherished projects, eventually brought to the screen, was Asylum (2005), in which she played the wife of a therapist who has a dangerous affair with one of his most disturbed patients. However, Richardson also played light comedy effectively in the remake of The Parent Trap (1998) and the romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan (2002).
Richardson's theatre career took her to Broadway when Anna Christie (Young Vic, 1991) transferred to New York in 1993. This was also when she met her second husband, the Northern Irish actor William John (Liam) Neeson (b. 1952), her co-star in the production. They married in New York on 3 July 1994 following her divorce from Fox, and had two sons, Micheál (b. 1995) and Daniel (b. 1996). Richardson relished the opportunity to make a name for herself in New York, and to be liberated from the shadow cast by her illustrious forebears back in the UK. On Broadway she won the Tony award for her Sally Bowles in Cabaret (1998), was a celebrated Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire in 2005, and played Anna in the New York début of Patrick Marber's Closer in 1999. 'To be working on Broadway, in this city I love, is an incredible experience', she stated (The Independent, 20 March 2009), and the extent of her enthusiasm was suggested by her adoption of American citizenship.
On a skiing holiday at the Mont Tremblant resort near Montreal in March 2009, Richardson sustained a head injury. She was airlifted back to New York but died at Lenox Hill Hospital on 18 March. The scene in Love Actually (2003) in which Liam Neeson's character reads a eulogy in mourning for the premature loss of his beautiful young wife took on a terrible poignancy. She was survived by him and their two sons. She was a versatile and skilful actress who could not only take her rightful place in the celebrated Redgrave dynasty but also managed to carve out her own independent career path in films, theatre, and television on both sides of the Atlantic.
- G. Fuller, ‘Natasha Richardson’, Interview (March 1991), 80–83
- J. Wolcott, ‘La femme Natasha’, VF (Jan 1998), 49
- ‘A passion for asylum’, Premiere (Sept 2005), 32
- Daily Telegraph (20 March 2009)
- The Guardian (20 March 2009)
- WW (2009)
- b. cert.
- BFI NFTVA, documentary footage
- BFI NFTVA, light entertainment footage
- BFI NFTVA, performance footage
- BL NSA, interview recording
- BL NSA, performance recordings
- L. Morley, group portrait, resin print, 1960 (with mother and grandmother), NPG, London
- photographs, 1963–2009, Getty Images, London
- photographs, 1963–2009, PA Images, London
- photographs, 1963–2009, Rex Features, London
- photograph, 1986, Heritage Images, London
- photographs, 1997–2008, Camera Press, London [see illus.]
- obituary photographs
- photographs, Photoshot, London