Known for her vibrant, intelligent portrayals of women who run the gamut from cold-blooded killers to long-suffering wives, Miranda Richardson is one of the British cinema’s foremost purveyors of elegant, energetic dysfunction.
Born in Southport, Lancashire, on March 3, 1958, Richardson began acting in school plays and left school at the age of 17 to study drama at the Bristol Old Vic Theatres School. Following her graduation, she acted in repertory theatre, becoming affiliated with Manchester’s Liberty Theatre in 1979. Obtaining her Equity card, Richardson performed in a number of regional productions before moving on to the London stage in 1981. While performing on the stage, she also began acting on television and then in film. Her first big break came when she was cast as the real-life Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed for murder in Britain, in Mike Newell’s Dance with a Stranger (1985). Her astonishing performance as a woman destroyed by her dependence on her loutish lover (played by a sulky Rupert Everett) earned wide critical acclaim, but Richardson remained fairly unknown outside of Britain.
In 1987, having turned down the opportunity to play the role that went to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the actress appeared in her first American outing, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun. Richardson’s portrayal of a doctor’s wife interned in a Japanese prison camp provided what little sensual heat there was to be found in the film, but it was not until five years later that American audiences finally took notice of her.
In 1992, Richardson had substantial roles in both Damage and The Crying Game. Playing the long-suffering wife of a philandering MP (Jeremy Irons) in the former and a murderous IRA operative in the latter, she impressed both critics and audiences with the spellbinding range and depth of her performances. Her work in both films received a number of honors, including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work in Damage and a BAFTA award in the same category for her portrayal of The Crying Game’s Jude. In addition, Richardson won a Golden Globe for her work in another film that year, Mike Newell’s Enchanted April, in which she played one of a group of British women who find liberation in the hills of Tuscany.
Richardson received her second Oscar nomination and third BAFTA nomination two years later, for her vivid, full-blooded performance in Tom and Viv, in which she played the aristocratic, unstable wife of T.S. Eliot. She subsequently did starring work in films of widely varying quality, turning in particularly memorable performances in Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996) and Robert Duvall’s The Apostle (1997). In the first, she demonstrated great wit as a politician’s drug-addicted wife, while in the second, she made her small role as a radio station secretary one of the film’s most memorable features.
Following a turn in David Hare’s The Designated Mourner (which was filmed in 1997 as the actors were also performing in its original production on the London stage) and a delightfully nasty stint as the evil queen in Merlin (1998), Richardson could be seen in a number of projects in 1999. Two of these were particularly high-profile, the first being Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, in which Richardson did time in a bodice and fright wig to portray a mysterious woman of questionable intention. The second, George Hickenlooper’s The Big Brass Ring, was a political drama that featured the actress as the wife of a gubernatorial candidate (William Hurt) whose campaign is severely threatened by his past indiscretions.
Richardson ushered in the new millenium with a role in the remake of the classic British crime-thriller Get Carter and by lending her voice to the claymation family film Chicken Run. In 2002, she wowed critics both with her performance in The Hours as well as in David Cronenberg’s Spider, a film that had Richardson playing three different characters opposite Ralph Fiennes. After a handful of small films in 2003, the actress returned to the megaplexes as the Queen of Denmark in 2004’s The Prince & Me.