The film industry was in shock this week following the news that talented British actress Katrin Cartlidge died last Saturday (7th September) in a North London hospital from a sudden bout of pneumonia and septicaemia. She was just 41.
Katrin had complained of suffering flu symptoms. When they got worse, her boyfriend, actor Peter Gevisser, took her to hospital. By Saturday, septicaemia (blood poisoning) had set in and in a critical condition, she died later that day.
Many in the European film world paid tributes, some from as far away as the Toronto Film Festival.
Born in London, of partly Jewish descent (her mother left Central Europe in 1938 to come to Britain), Katrin’s illustrious film and TV career began with a six year stint on Brookside, when she was 21. She was a member of the original cast, playing Lucy Collins.
Following roles in Eat the Rich and Sacred Hearts in the late 80’s, Katrin’s career took off when she played Louise’s roommate Sophie in Mike Leigh’s seminal and much praised film Naked (1993) opposite David Thewlis.
Challenging film and TV work followed, including a lead role in Milcho Manchevski’s film Before the Rain (1994) and on TV in Three Steps to Heaven (1995).
Her life was to change dramatically with the introduction to Danish film director Lars Von Trier in 1996 when she played Dodo McNeill in Breaking the Waves with co-stars Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson. Interviewing Katrin in Cannes regarding the film, she enthused animatedly about working for Lars – she described it as an entirely different approach to direction from anything she had ever done before. The film won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes, and led to Katrin winning Best Actress awards from the Bodil and Robert Film Festivals.
Katrin was to return to working for Mike Leigh a year later, winning a European Film and Evening Standard Best Actress awards for her part in Career Girls.
Later that year, she was to return to the world of Lars von Trier, making a documentary about him, entitled Tranceformer. Katrin felt Lars had transformed her way of thinking as an actor, hence perhaps the title of the film.
In 1998, she made Claire Dolan for US independent director Lodge Kerrigan which won her an ISA Award for the Best Female Lead. The following year, she starred in another widely applauded Mike Leigh film Topsy Turvy.
Parts in The Cherry Orchard, Hotel Splendide, The Weight of Water and a TV film of Cinderella followed whilst in the theatre, she was seen at the Royal Court and at the National. She tended to prefer film roles, but was always alive to appearing on stage if the right production came along.
Last year, she starred in one of her most memorable roles playing a feisty News reporter for the International Press in Danis Tanovic’s excellent anti-war comedy No Man’s Land which won numerous prizes worldwide, chief of which was the 2002 Best Foreign Film Oscar. Katrin was really pleased about that and she hoped that would lead to the film reaching a wider audience which she felt it deserved.
Most recently, she fell victim to Jack the Ripper in the Johnny Depp film From Hell, made a documentary entitled Searching for Debra Winger and starred in a mini TV series of Crime and Punishment. She was due to start work this autumn on a film with Benicio del Toro and Sean Penn.
I was fortunate enough to meet her on several occasions, interviewing her for Naked, Before the Rain, Breaking the Waves and No Man’s Land. We became good friends and she was always passionate about her art, giving praise to directors she worked for.
She was also a hard worker, creating a body of work others would be proud of. Katrin liked to get inside a character and must have been fun to work with, because she could always see the funny side of things. No Man’s Land amused her for example where in the film and on set, there was such a fascinating mix of languages that at times no one could understand what anyone else was saying!
It seems fitting that the final words should be hers. This was the last part of our conversation 4 months ago, 12 days before her last birthday. She told me how her mother had to flee her own country to reside here and she felt that some newspapers were portraying an unfair slant on the plight of asylum seekers. Her plea was for more consideration towards all humanity and it was heartfelt.
"There has to be more tolerance. People are on the move and others are reacting to it in a very strong way. People hold on to their own culture too rigidly. They should let things ride a bit, accept the birth of something new. The way asylum seekers are treated by some aspects of the Press is ridiculous. It’s far too harsh. The world has to start looking after itself as one entity. People should start to accept others’ differences and show more tolerance."
Many will miss you.