Natasha Richardson: Nell and The White Countess


I’m shocked and saddened to learn of Natasha Richardson’s sudden passing.  I followed the news all day yesterday.  She had a minor fall on a beginners ski slope at the Quebec resort Mont Tremblant not far from Montreal while vacationing with her sons Michael and Daniel.  It turned out that she had sustained a serious head injury which was not noticeable at first.  But an hour later she started to have headaches and rapidly deteriorated.  She was rushed to Montreal’s Sacré-Coeur hospital and later transported to NYC Lenox Hill Hospital.  Her husband Liam Neeson (Taken, 2008, Schindler’s List, 1993) flew to Montreal to be with her from his Toronto set of Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and had not left her side.

Natasha Richardson was a shining actor on the London stage and on Broadway, winning a Tony Award in 1998 for her lead role as Sally Bowles in the revival of the musical ‘Cabaret’, directed by Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, 2008 ).  Acting was in her genes as she was privileged to be born into a family of astounding theatre talents, her grandfather being Sir Michael Redgrave, one of England’s finest tragedians according to The New York Times, her mother Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar Best Actress, Julia, 1977; Howards End, 1992Atonement, 2007), her father the director/producer Tony Richardson, her sister Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck).  Natasha Richardson died March 18, 2009.  She was only 45.

The highly acclaimed actress had left an impressive body of work from Shakespeare to the silver screen.  Her long filmography spans from comedies like The Parent Trap (1998) to the futuristic fable by Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale (1990).  One of her earlier film is A Month in the Country (1987) with Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.  But these two are most memorable to me:  Nell (1994) and The White Countess (2005).

NELL (1994)

nell1Natasha Richardson met Liam Neeson on the set, and married him that year.   Jodie Foster is Nell, who grows up in the wild forest of N. Carolina, far away from human civilization.  She knows no language, well, none that other human can understand.  The only two people she has seen are her mother and her twin sister, whom she communicates with a language of their own.  After they die, Nell is left alone to deal with her loss and survival, until one day, she is discovered by Dr. Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Paula Olson (Natasha Richardson).  From an initial academic interest, Lovell has grown to appreciate Nell as a person, and wants to bring her back to human society.  While both doctors have good intentions, others do not.  Herein lie the conflicts in the plot, the wild child versus the modern world, the experimental object versus the human being.  All three main characters put forth an impressive performance.  If you can still get hold of the DVD, now may be the poignant time to reminisce.


the-white-countessA lesser known film by Natasha Richardson, The White Countess (2005)  is a Merchant Ivory production (Merchant’s last film), its screenplay by the talented writer Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day).  The story takes place in the exotic setting of Shanghai, China, shortly before WWII.  Slightly resembling Casablanca (1942), the movie excels in its mood and atmosphere.  Ralph Fiennes is Todd Jackson, a blind, former American diplomat who meets a Russian refugee Sofia (Natasha Richardson) in a night club.  Sofia belongs to a family of nobility, a White Russian countess herself, but now has to work in the lowliest line to support her family.  The Japanese invasion sets the stage for suspense, and the plot thickens.  Vanessa Redgrave plays Sofia’s aunt, and has delivered some moving moments performing with her daughter.  Natasha’s aunt Lynn Redgrave is also in the movie.  Now those scenes are ever more memorable.  The behind-the-scenes interviews with the three of them, together with Ralph Fiennes, commentary with Natasha Richardson and director James Ivory in the Special Features are just priceless now.  I purchased the DVD a while back, and have seen it several times.  I know I’ll treasure it even more now.


Photo Sources:

Natasha Richardson:, Nell:, The White Countess:

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

5 thoughts on “Natasha Richardson: Nell and The White Countess”

  1. Arti,

    Oftentimes, I think our reactions to the senseless tragedies that befall people like Natasha Richardson have more to do with the profound loss of someone who was imbued with life, engaged in every aspect of it, and living it out in ways the rest of us envy, imagine and admire. Of course she was beautiful, talented, charming, spirited and most importantly, decent and nice, but what was captivating about her, even enthralling, was the richness of her choices, the sincerity of her convictions and the integrity of her life’s path. In work and in love, she seemed to have found her way through the elusiveness that afflicts so many others just like her. To my mind, that is what we are mourning — that extraordinary gift of a life well lived.

    Thank you for your most eloquent tribute to Natasha Richardson.



  2. Nearly two weeks later I am still disbelieving that this lovely woman is gone. What a fine tribute this is. Thankfully, we have her body of work to remember her by.


    What makes it more tragic is that Vanessa Redgrave has to live the reality of the play she performed, the stage adaptation of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2007). The play is a monologue in which Didion describes her grief over the loss of her husband and their only daughter just months apart. And I was moved to learn that JD went to visit NR at the NYC hospital.



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