Thursday, 19 March 2009

Natasha Richardson, 1963 - 2009

Sunday May 10th will be a deeply sad Mother's day in the Neeson /Richardson /Redgrave family this year. The next day would have been her 46th birthday.

Those who have lost a sister, a daughter, a spouse, a mother to a sudden, stupid and incomprehensible accident have an understanding of their profound grief.

My impression of Natasha Richardson was based on performances that she perfected and that I watched, reviews or short news items that I read. For example, this piece about her role in The Handmaid's Tale.

Natasha Richardson was never afraid to speak her mind.

And it was in defence of a revered Canadian writer that she first showed her capacity for bluntness. ... Natasha Richardson could have been more circumspect about The Handmaid's Tale, given the fact that it represented a huge career opportunity, but that wasn't in her nature. ... She saw both novel and film as an important cautionary tale. She strode unrepentantly into a minefield when she cited her reasons for applauding a screen version - the rise of fundamentalism in the American South, the constant threats of censorship in so-called democratic countries, the continuing abortion debate, the lesson of Nazi Germany. And she was proud of the fact that this was a project proceeding from a firm feminist perspective.

But she also made it clear that her loyalty was to Canada's Margaret Atwood, rather than the movie, and she took delight in chastising the big Hollywood studios which had refused to finance a feminist-oriented story that was clearly set in a United States taken over by right-wing fundamentalist fanatics - a country where the few remaining fertile women were required to act as surrogate mothers or ``handmaids'' to the ruling male elite.

It was her concern for the integrity of Atwood's novel which led to her bold criticism of Pinter's screenplay. ... Richardson recognized early on the difficulties in making a film out of a book which was ``so much a one-woman interior monologue'' and with the challenge of playing a woman unable to convey her feelings to the world about her, but who must make them evident to the audience watching the movie. She thought the passages of voice-over narration in the original screenplay would solve the problem, but then Pinter changed his mind and Richardson felt she had been cast adrift. ...

"Harold Pinter has something specific against voice-overs,'' she said angrily 19 years ago. "Speaking as a member of an audience, I've seen voice- over and narration work very well in films a number of times, and I think it would have been helpful had it been there for The Handmaid's Tale. After all its HER story.''

In the end director Volker Schlondorff sided with Richardson. ... "As far as I was concerned, at the risk of offending Harold, the book was my bible.''


Natasha Richardson's mother Vanessa Redgrave has supported the Palestinian people's human rights for decades now. Perhaps I shouldn't assume that religious fundamentalists and anti-feminist, right-wing neo-cons will respond to news of Richardson's death and her family's grief with the same vile and gloating petulance that they displayed towards the recent commemoration of Rachel Corrie's death. Let's hope that most of them are decent and compassionate people.

12 comments:

Beijing York said...

Thanks for this dBO. It was only yesterday that I heard of an accident at the training slope at Mt. Tremblant, and then I saw a news feed that said Natasha was dead. Very shocking. She leaves behind a very young family. My thoughts are with them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks dBO, I'm still in shock. Her poor boys, my heart aches for them. Here one minute, gone the next....too much for me right now. The fleetingness is too hard to bear even for an Irish/Welsh folk like me.

Radical Centrist said...

Mother's day in the UK is in March, not May...

deBeauxOs said...

Natasha Richardson moved to the US in the 1980's, IIRC and became a citizen. The Neeson/Richardson family lived in an upstate New York town and NYC, I believe.

Upon emigrating from Britain, she said she left behind all the heavy baggage of her family's theatre mythology.

Dr. Prole said...

I had a client tell me day before yesterday about the accident and that she was being reported as brain dead. I was in total shock and still am. What a tragedy. She will be as missed as she was admired - greatly.

deBeauxOs said...

When I heard that she was cast as Sally in a revival of Cabaret some years ago, I imagined that her performance would be subversive, subtle and ferocious. That would have been something to see.

the regina mom said...

It's sad news, for sure. I don't usually pay attention to "star" news, but this one touched me, because of The Handmaid's Tale bit and because she's Redgrave's daughter. I admire Redgrave a lot but didn't know the two were connected. It is a sad story.

deBeauxOs said...

Redgrave may not have been the first winner of an Academy Award to use her acceptance speech to promote a political perspective, but she may have been the most controversial. This is part of what she said: (accepting her Oscar for Julia in 1977)

"My dear colleagues, I thank you very, very much for this tribute to my work. I think that Jane Fonda and I have done the best work of our lives, and I salute you and I pay tribute to you, and I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you have stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums [interrupted by boos] whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression. And I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism. Thank you."

brebisnoire said...

Thanks for posting on this deBeauxOs - I'm not usually that moved by celebrities' lives and deaths, but this one happened close by, and Natasha Richardson hardly appears to me to be a celebrity. A very successful theatre actor (I didn't find her very memorable on screen, with the exception of The Handmaid's Tale) - and a woman who obviously enjoyed her life and her children.
I get out on the slopes several times every winter, and it had honestly never occurred to me to rent a helmet for myself, even though I insisted on it for the kids. And I should damn well know better - accidents can happen to anyone, you don't even have to be skiing the double diamonds or underbrush to have one. So every time I don a helmet from now on, whether it be to ski or ride bikes, I will be doing it in memory of Natasha.
Because life is fleeting, and accidents are waiting to happen to any and all of us. She was a generous woman in life and sadly for her family, in death. I only wish she had taken the advice on the slopes, but time is fleeting as well, and we can't turn back the clock.

deBeauxOs said...

brebis noire, one of the things that I wondered about, regarding the circumstances of her death is whether her family agreed to organ donations.

I hate to think that it was not an option pursued because of the paparazzi feeding frenzy it would provoke - can you imagine how ghoulish it would be for tabloids to track down where Richardson's kidney went, and who was the benefactor?

After all, the 'news' that there was no brain activity and that her body was hooked up to machines got out fairly quickly. What a nightmare for her family.

I still think that had it been one of her kids that had knocked his head, she would have been vigilent about ensuring that medical care be secured. It's such a mom thing to not want others to fuss about her. And Richardson seemed to be a low-key, low-maintenance, low-profile un-diva 'celebrity' - to a fault - unfortunately.

brebisnoire said...

Good point - I hadn't thought of that. As my father just received the donation of a new cornea, which will make an incredible difference in his life - organ donation is something I see as very important and generous. I'd like to believe that Richardson would have put it in her will or signed any necessary documents, but I'd also rather not know for sure, considering the paparazzi and tabloids. On the other hand, just mentioning that she had donated would be a great thing for post-mortem donation.

Beijing York said...

Kenneth Branagh was asked about the loss of Natasha Richardson on Q (CBC) today. He kept repeating how incredibly nice a person she was in a very sweet, genuine way. He basically talked about her as any of us would talk about a dear friend. It certainly reinforces how non-celebrity she was.

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