Monday, August 31, 2009

On Saturday I descended into madness with Natasha Richardson. Twice.I watched her 2005 film ASYLUM on DVD that Natasha had struggled to bring to the screen and it certainly provided her with one of the few screen opportunities she had to stretch herself and show how powerful she could be.

She had read the book before it was published and was determined to bring it to the screen. Sadly I don't think it was particularly successful although as I say, she was never less than watchable.

The film moved along at a brisk rate and that I fear was the problem - again and again I got the impression that I was watching a scene that probably had more impact on the page, but stripped of all internal dialogue etc. it slid by with hardly any impact.

Richardson played Stella, the unfulfilled wife of a newly-appointed chief psychiatrist to a large asylum, who falls in love with a charismatic but dangerous inmate who was formerly an artist. Abandoning her husband and son, this 1950s Mrs. Soffel lives with her lover in his moodily-lit garret room until tracked down by her husband's jealous colleague (an oily Ian McKellen). Returning to normality she attempts to play the repentant wife but slowly her life unravels as she finds herself as much a prisoner of her emotions as she is of the men who wish to possess her.

I still have the DVD so I guess there is the chance a second viewing will be better but it's a shame I didn't enjoy it more as it was obviously a project that was very close to her heart.

No such problems with the 2nd outing as it was a work I was already familiar with. The National Film Theatre - I can't call it the British Film Institute no matter how much they try and brand it - have had a short season of stage-to-small screen adaptations so it meant I could finally see Richard Eyre's 1992 BBC production of Tennessee Williams' haunting SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER.

As with Brando and Leigh in STREETCAR.., the celluloid shadows of Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor threaten to loom heavy over any production of this play. However the late Sheila Gish and Rachel Weisz banished any filmic memories when I saw the 1999 Donmar production at the Comedy Theatre as the play is radically different to the film and here, although the overall feel was a bit too cool for the fevered hothouse atmosphere, I think Richard Eyre coaxed performances of greater nuance and subtlety from the leads.
It is reported that Maggie Smith was unwell during the filming and she certainly appears to be firing on a quieter cylinder than usual but this in fact leads to a new interpretation of Mrs. Venable, the possessive mother willing to go to any length to protect the reputation of Sebastian, her dead poet son. Rather than Hepburn's Cruella De Ville turn or Sheila Gish's dominating matriarch, Smith gave Mrs. Venable the unassailable quality of the patrician snob, sure in her power of getting people to do anything for her money.

Rob Lowe was surprisingly good as the young doctor whose clinic is promised a large donation from the Venable coffers... just so long as he performs a lobotomy on Catherine, Sebastian's poor cousin who is the only witness to his death.

Tennessee Williams had doubts as to Elizabeth Taylor's suitability for the quiet and poor relative who is naive in the ways of the world and in particular, her effect on men. Natasha Richardson was a luminous Catherine, obviously damaged by what she witnessed but also capable of firey anger when confronted by her mother and brother (a fine double act of Moira Redmond and Richard E. Grant) who are more than happy for Catherine to stop upsetting her aunt who disdainfully finances that side of the family. She handled the devastating climactic soliloquy with great skill.

On the whole I preferred SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER over ASYLUM but both stand as further evidence of the tragic loss of Natasha Richardson.

No comments: