Natasha RichardsonTwo years ago today, Natasha Richardson died at the age of 45 from a head injury she suffered while skiing two days earlier. Her untimely death from what initially seemed to be a minor accident was shocking. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that her life and career were in full bloom.

Though she had distanced herself professionally from the illustrious Redgrave family (including her mother Vanessa and aunt Lynn) in order to establish her own reputation, Natasha had in the last few years begun to work with them on both stage and screen.
As a child, Richardson appeared in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade,' directed by her father, Tony Richardson, but her acting career was really launched later in regional theater. In her 20s, as throughout her career, Richardson mixed stage and screen work, often portraying sensual, complicated characters, her beauty offset by a quiet, contained intensity. She was a sane, centered Mary Shelley in Ken Russell's hallucinatory 'Gothic' (1987), an early standout role.

Natasha Richardson in 'Patty Hearst' The next year, she was brilliant in the title role of Paul Schrader's stark, stylized 'Patty Hearst,' nailing the kidnapped heiress's demeanor and flat Western accent. (Richardson's finesse with various American accents has been much admired.)

In 1990 she starred as the title character in the disturbing cautionary fable 'The Handmaid's Tale,' alongside Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, another tricky role. That same year she appeared in a second Schrader film, the chilling, erotically-charged 'The Comfort of Strangers' as half of a couple (with Rupert Everett) vacationing in Venice who fall in with a strange older duo (Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren).

In addition to nabbing a Tony nomination for her 1993 New York stage debut in 'Anna Christie,' Richardson wound up marrying her co-star, Liam Neeson, with whom she had two sons; the couple appeared together in 1994's 'Nell.' That year, Richardson also gave a wonderful portrayal of a glamorous war widow in English comedy/mystery 'Widow's Peak.'

Richardson in 1993 TV-movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 'Suddenly, Last Summer':

Though obviously willing and able to take on dark, challenging roles, Richardson was also comfortable with lighter, commercial fare, displaying excellent comedic chops in the Lindsay Lohan remake of 'The Parent Trap' and in 2002 romcom 'Maid in Manhattan,' embodying a snobbish socialite in the latter. In 2001 she was Emmy-nominated for her role as an American who saved thousands of Jews during World War II in TV movie 'Haven' and appeared in Ethan Hawke's feature directorial debut 'Chelsea Walls.'

In 2005, she gave highly memorable performances in two very different films: as a woman who has a passionate affair with a psychiatric patient (Martin Czokas) in David Mackenzie's unsettling 'Asylum,' and as the title character in 'The White Countess.' Luminous and poignant in the latter as an aristocrat fallen on hard times, Richardson was joined on screen by Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, playing her mother and aunt, respectively.

Natasha Richardson in 'The White Countess'In 2007's 'Evening,' she again appeared alongside her mother; two months before Richardson's death, the duo starred in a concert production of 'A Little Night Music,' which was slated to be produced on Broadway. Richardson's last onscreen appearance was as a boarding school headmistress in teen comedy 'Wild Child,' never released theatrically in the U.S.

An actor of delicacy and soulfulness, Richardson left a legacy of strong, haunting performances in diverse, often challenging films. Her strength and fearlessness are in short supply in Hollywood; she is sorely missed.
categories Features, Cinematical