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Obituary: Natasha Richardson

Natasha Richardson spent much of her life being labelled; first as the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and then as the wife of Liam Neeson.

She tried hard to throw off what she called "the family baggage" and carved out a career for herself on stage and in film.

Natasha Jane Richardson was born on 11 May 1963, the daughter of the actress Vanessa Redgrave and the director, Tony Richardson.

She made her debut at the age of four, playing a flower girl in her father`s 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade, which also featured her mother Vanessa and uncle Corin Redgrave.

She later acknowledged that her father, who died in 1991, had the most influence on her as an actress.

"His faith in me gave me a sense of belief in myself, which I sort of lost for a while after his death," she said.

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Her childhood was dominated by her mother`s political activities, to the extent that the family had to move to a smaller house because Vanessa had spent so much money on campaigning.

Richardson later told an interviewer. "There was a period when she was very political and that was the main focus of her life, and sister Joely and I took a back seat. Our lifestyle dramatically changed and I felt very uncomfortable with it all."

She was educated at St Paul`s Girls` School before going on to train at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

She began acting at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds before making her professional West End debut in a 1985 revival of Anton Chekhov`s The Seagull, winning the London Drama Critics` most promising newcomer award for her performance as Nina.

By this time she had appeared in the film Every Picture Tells a Story and also in an American mini-series Ellis Island, which coincidentally had her future husband Liam Neeson among the cast.

Her first UK television role was in the acclaimed Granada production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, where she played Violet Hunter in the 1985 episode entitled The Copper Beeches.

The same year she went on to play two Shakespearean roles, Ophelia in Hamlet and Helena in A Midsummer Night`s Dream.

In 1987 she appeared as Mary Shelley in Gothic, Ken Russell`s lurid take on the visit by the Shelley`s and Lord Byron to the Villa Diodati which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein.

In the same year she also appeared in A Month in the Country, where she starred alongside Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.

Her career received a boost in 1990 when she appeared as Offred in the science fiction film A Handmaid`s Tale with Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall.

Despite being based on Margaret Atwood`s best-selling novel, there was little Hollywood interest in making the film and a number of leading actresses turned down the part before it was offered to Richardson.

She starred with Jodie Foster in the 1994 film Nell where she found herself again working with Neeson.

The couple married the same year, Richardson having divorced her first husband Robert Fox.

It was back to the stage in 1998 where she won a Tony for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in a New York stage revival of the musical Cabaret.

She appeared in a number of films between 2000 and 2005 including Blow Dry, Maid in Manhattan and Asylum.

In 2005 she again appeared in a New York theatrical revival, this time as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In January 2009 she starred with her mother in a benefit concert of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music. There were hopes that they might have transferred the show to Broadway next year.

Source: Obituary: Natasha Richardson

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