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A Woman for All Seasons: Susannah York Dies at 72

by Josina Reaves on January 18, 2011

About a year ago, my boyfriend and I saw a viewing of A Man for All Seasons at MOMA.  Paul Scofield’s Thomas More and Susannah York and Paul Scofield in a Man for All SeasonsRobert Shaw’s Henry VIII were striking and commanding, but both of us walked away wondering about the woman who had played More’s daughter Margaret.  When our IMDB search turned up Susannah York’s name, we both said, “Ohhhhh!” as if it should have been obvious, but truthfully, we still couldn’t put our fingers on why her name and face were so familiar.  Most Americans would probably have had the same reaction.

It turns out that my familiarity with York had little to do with her screen image and much more to do with her stage work.  York was the first Gertrude I ever saw on stage, and I had seen her in a 1998 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Alex Jennings had the titular role and was magnificent, but York was beautiful, grave, blithe and sad all at once, the perfect doomed queen for a world bent on mad frivolity.  I can still see her bending like a reed toward and away from Jennings, her body conveying tenderness and repulsion even from my seat in the balcony.

York never achieved the kind of screen success many of her contemporaries did, and she never became the notable grand dame of the Shakespearean stage she ought to have been, but she left a mark on me.  I gasped when I read the headline announcing her passing.  She always did have the power to move me.

The New York Times has a review of that brilliant RSC Hamlet at BAM, as well as a lovely obituary.

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