Natasha Richardson remembered

I have a number of regrets about missed theater opportunities — the biggest are that I missed Cherry Jones in Doubt and Natasha Richardson in Cabaret.

Richardson won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival and was widely lauded for her success at re-imagining a role so thoroughly associated with Liza Minnelli. But Richardson — who died tragically and unexpectedly last night from a head injury incurred the day before — continually lived up to the standards set by the Redgraves/Richardsons, her theater-royalty family.

And she distinguished herself time and time again onstage and on-screen.

I’m a little caught off-guard by how sad I am at her untimely death. I certainly had no personal connection to Natasha Richardson — the closest I get is a friend who once briefly worked with her and recalls the experience as “memorable.” I suppose it’s largely the shock of someone young and vibrant being alive one day and gone the next, coupled with compassion for her family, who must be enduring unimaginable grief. And, of course, there’s the disappointment that I’ll never see her perform live. So the best I can do is to take a moment to celebrate what I enjoyed while she was alive.

Richardson compiled a long filmography, most of which I’m not going to discuss. But here is a smattering of her roles that I saw and enjoyed over the years.

Constance Haverford, Evening (2007)

If the reviews are any indication, I’m one of only a handful of people who enjoyed Richardson’s second-to-last film role. Part of it was the sheer amazingness of the cast — including Richardson’s mother, Vanessa Redgrave — but I also enjoyed watching Richardson and Toni Collette’s moving and compelling sister act.

Dr. Paula Olsen, Nell (1994)

This was another well-cast (Richardson, Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson) but mediocre movie. Call me shallow, but watching the three of them chew the scenery together was enough for me.

Kate/Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Although I was mildly underwhelmed by the film adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s chilling future-dystopia novel, I was impressed by Richardson as the title character. (And I was glad they kept the lesbian character, Moira, in the movie.) The character in the book lived a largely internal life, but Richardson successfully portrayed Kate/Offred’s mix of fear, scheming and independence.

Elizabeth James, The Parent Trap (1998)

I loved this movie. Loved it. I love the original Parent Trap, and I loved the remake. Lindsay Lohan was fantastic. Dennis Quaid was boyishly charming. And Natasha Richardson was lovely. The movie was light and fun, and Natasha Richardson appealingly evoked Maureen O’Hara’s “Maggie” from the original Parent Trap. The quality of the acting was quite remarkable, which made the movie much more substantial than it should have been.

Again, these are just a few of Natasha Richardson’s roles in her distinguished, albeit tragically shortened, career. What movies of hers did you enjoy? And did any of you catch her onstage?

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