R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir David Mackenzie
scr Patrick Marber, Chrys Balis
with Natasha Richardson, Ian McKellen, Marton Csokas, Hugh Bonneville, Gus Lewis, Joss Ackland, Judy Parfitt, Anna Keaveney, Sean Harris, Wanda Ventham, Robert Willox, Patrick McGrath
release US 12.Aug.05, UK 9.Sep.05
05/UK Paramount 1h30

Doctor doctor: Richardson and McKellen

richardson csokas bonneville

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Asylum After the slow burn of Young Adam, Mackenzie actually cranks it down several notches for this almost subliminal rumble about passions and cruelty in late-1950s England. Solid acting keeps it watchable, but can't bring it to life.

Max (Bonneville) is the new assistant administrator at an isolated hospital for the criminally insane. Wife Stella (Richardson) and son Charlie (Lewis) aren't too happy about moving to the middle of nowhere, while Dr Cleave (McKellen) is jealous that Max got the job he wanted, and might be promoted when the current director (Ackland) retires. But Cleave is charm personified, befriending Stella perhaps a little too attentively. Stella, on the other hand, finds herself attracted to one of Cleave's patients, the smouldering Edgar (Csokas).

This is artful film is beautifully photographed and intriguingly edited, with internalised performances and intricate sets and costumes. These people look impeccable on the outside, but are consumed with desire, boredom, jealousy, greed and so on. And the cast captures this strongly. McKellen has the most intriguing role, simply because he has a spark of the power-mad, charming back-stabber about him. Richardson and Csokas are moody and restrained; Bonneville has the most thankless role, as always.

For a story about infatuation, sex and violence, the film is almost strikingly dull; Mackenzie never finds the momentum of the narrative. It just meanders along with everything gurgling under the surface until the characters finally reveal their true souls. Sort of. It's such a gloomy, underwhelming, grim film that you begin to wonder why they bothered making it. And what it was about Patrick McGrath's novel that suggested a movie to begin with.

There's loads of atmosphere though. Much of it has the tone of a thriller, in which we wait for something terrifying to happen as the melodrama deepens. And the plot itself suggests intensely consuming obsession and rage, although it remains almost pathologically under control, with no chemistry between any of the characters and a mopey pace that hints at impending tragedy and misery long before anything actually happens.

cert 15 themes, sexuality, violence 22.Jul.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall