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The Tumultuous Tony Richardson

by Legacy Staff

Academy Award-winning movie director and producer Tony Richardson died 20 years ago today. We spotlight his career and his position in a great acting dynasty.

Twenty years ago today on November 14, 1991, Academy Award-winning movie director and producer Tony Richardson died from AIDS. His death underscored the complex and tumultuous nature of his personal life (Richardson was bisexual and had very public relationships with – and splits from – well-known women like Vanessa Redgrave and Jeanne Moreau). His films – much like his life – were complicated, and not always well-received. But his legacy includes inspired and stellar filmmaking, with Oscar winners like Tom Jones and Blue Sky to his credit… as well as two talented and beloved actresses.

In 1962, Richardson married Vanessa Redgrave, an actress whose famous family comprises one of the greatest acting and film dynasties of all time. The Redgrave family was already well-established in theatre and film when Richardson became intertwined with them: there was Vanessa, of course, who continues to impress and garner critical acclaim (she’s currently appearing on the big screen as Queen Elizabeth I in Anonymous); younger sister Lynn Redgrave, who in the early ‘60s was just starting out in the family biz but would go on to earn Oscar and Tony nominations; brother Corin Redgrave, an actor and activist; their mother Rachel Kempson, a stage and screen actress whose credits include The Captive Heart and Out of Africa; and Sir Michael Redgrave, the Oscar-nominated patriarch of the family, renowned for his work on stage and screen, beloved by wife Rachel (they would remain married for 50 years, until his death in 1985) and, like his son-in-law, bisexual.


Though Richardson’s marriage to Vanessa Redgrave lasted only five years, it produced two children who would follow in the family’s famous footsteps: actresses Natasha Richardson (Tony Award winner for the Broadway revival of Cabaret and star of films like Gothic, The Handmaid’s Tale, Nell, Widows’ Peak, and The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan) and Joely Richardson (known for her work on television in Nip/Tuck and The Tudors and currently appearing as the younger Elizabeth I in Anonymous – with her mother playing the queen in her older years – and the upcoming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Through his marriage (albeit short-lived), his daughters, and his many films featuring his famous family and family-in-law, Richardson will be forever linked to the Redgraves.

In the early 1960s, at the time he and Vanessa were married, Richardson’s film career was ramping up. He directed his father-in-law in 1962’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Richardson’s masterpiece Tom Jones, starring Albert Finney, Susannah York and Diane Cilento (among many others), followed in 1963 and featured the director’s sister-in-law Lynn and mother-in-law Rachel. For his work, Richardson took home the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Direction, showing just what a director could do with a scene free of dialogue.

By the time The Charge of the Light Brigade was released in 1968, Richardson and Redgrave had divorced. Nevertheless, the Richardson’s film, co-starred Vanessa Redgrave and featured 4-year-old Natasha and barely-3-year-old Joely. In 1984, Joely Richardson also had a small role in The Hotel New Hampshire (based on the John Irving novel), a film written and directed by her father – and every bit as randy as Richardson’s earlier Tom Jones.

Tony Richardson directed Blue Sky in 1990. No Redgraves were included, but Jessica Lange went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance as an instable military wife in what would be Richardson’s final film.

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