To even the balance after the earlier post on this blog comparing Natasha Richardson with Jade Goody, I thought I would write a very brief actor’s appreciation of a single, excellent piece of work for which I will always remember her.
In the last film of the Merchant-Ivory oeuvre, The White Countess, (Ismail Merchant died that year) Richardson gave a performance as haunting, as light and as layered as any that has ever been laid down on celluloid. Never self-indulgent, always truthful to a perfectly thought out appreciation of the character, her eponymous Countess Sofia Belinsky had a constrained grace which brushed lightly against the self-disgust caused by her enforced prostitution and the projection of the same self-loathing by the family she supported, her mother and aunt played by her own, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave. Entire sequences from the film spring to mind after just one viewing at the cinema more than three years ago, no doubt also helped by Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay and her acting against Ralph Fiennes in one of his finest – and most understated – performances. As the most popular of the American critics, Roger Ebert, put it: “Fiennes and Richardson make this film work with the quiet strangeness of their performances.”
For someone to have brought moments of meaning into the minds of the watching audience which stay with them and, in doing so, affect their judgements – no matter how slightly – and thus their behaviour, and thus their character, is the most that an artist can hope for and that was achieved in that one role.
I saw her in others, which did not affect me so much, and I mourn the fact that I never saw her on stage. Which is not to claim, as commentators so often implicitly do, that that in anyway compares to the agony of her family. They have the complete and most heartfelt sympathy of one who lost a brother in a skiing accident some years ago. It is a sadness that does not go away.