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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Julian Fellowes|
with Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, Linda Bassett, Hermione Norris, David Harewood, John Neville, John Warnaby, Jeremy Child, Richenda Carey, Alice O'Connell, Christine Lohr
release US 16.Sep.05,
05/UK Fox 1h26
Chamber room drama: Everett, Watson and Wilkinson
This elegantly written film, Fellowes' directorial debut, is a strikingly human drama that allows its cast to create fascinating characters we're genuinely interested in, even if they're not entirely likeable.
James and Anne (Wilkinson and Watson) have a fiercely middle-class English life, with a house in London, where James works as a corporate solicitor, and a sprawling home in Buckinghamshire, where they revel in the country life. But when their cleaning lady (Bassett) loses her husband in a road accident, cracks start appearing in their orderly world. Their posh neighbour Bill (Everett) becomes increasingly involved in their lives, secrets start to escape, people do things they regret and morality just refuses to stay put.
These shifting ethics are the story's strongest aspects, as we marvel at how a small change in perspective can completely alter what we see as right and wrong. Almost every character is forced to do a complete U-turn at one time, all while struggling with standard relationship issues. Fellowes expertly withholds information until it organically seeps out into the open, giving brief out-of-synch glimpses at what has happened or what is coming, and tantalising with suggestions and hidden truths.
And of course, he gives his fine cast wonderful material to work with. It's all about suppression and repression--a society in which the appearance of civility is far more important than the real thing. Wilkinson and Watson are simply superb, saying as much with a glance as they do with the lacerating dialog. Bassett is also superb, especially in a couple of pivotal scenes. While Everett has a smaller, thankless role, which he nails perfectly; Bill trundles through the story with the steady arrogance of the obscenely wealthy.
As the characters create a real mess of their lives, they pass a point of no return that we think will be their undoing. And yet, the story cleverly shows the resilience of British society while quietly exposing its dangers. When telling the truth becomes the worst possible thing to do, you know something is seriously wrong. Civilised, yes. But also muted, imprisoning and wrenchingly sad. In a stiff-upper-lip, everything-will-be-just-fine way, of course.
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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