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|Mrs. Ratcliffes Revolution
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Billie Eltringham
scr Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan
with Catherine Tate, Iain Glen, Katharina Thalbach, Nigel Betts, Brittany Ashworth, Jessica Barden, Christian Brassington, Heike Makatsch, Alexander Scheer, Robert Lowe, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Karl Kranzkowski
release UK 28.Sep.07
07/UK Warner 1h42
West to East: Betts, Barden, Tate, Ashworth and Glen
Loosely based on a true story from the late-60s, this West-meets-East tale is lively and colourful, and also a little contrived. But it features a strikingly engaging performance from Tate as a mother trying to hold her family together.
The Ratcliffe family live in Bingley, West Yorkshire, dominated by the optimistic Frank (Glen), whose wife Dorothy (Tate) is happy to stay in the background. Daughters Alex and Mary (Ashworth and Barden) are craving attention in very different ways, while Uncle Phillip (Betts) struggles to find an outlet for his artistic talents. When Frank is offered a job teaching in East Berlin, he happily accepts, dragging his family to a new life in his idealised communist society. But things aren't what they expected. And it'll be up to Dorothy to set it right.
Director Eltringham (The Long Firm) kicks off the film with a wonderfully stylised sequence that's funny and fast, and quickly establishes the political to and fro within this offbeat family. Amid this, Frank's and Mary's belief that East German-style communism might be the remedy for humanity is both realistic and naive. And as the film loads on the gags about life and politics in the East, we also start to feel Dorothy's compassion, especially her sense that, as a mere housewife, she can't live up to her revolutionary husband.
The East German settings are so finely recreated that we are drawn into the gritty realities of the story even as things get increasingly comical. The slow dawning of what's really going on is different in each character, and the film astutely underscores everything with the earthy humanity of interpersonal longing, which extends even to the more outrageous side characters, such as their mercenary neighbour Anna (performed to scene-stealing perfection by Thalbach).
So it's a bit of a shame when the film begins to unravel in the final act, which abandons the astute Goodbye Lenin style of political comedy, drifting into an artificial silliness that undermines Dorothy's emergence as the story's actual protagonist. In previous roles, Tate has struggled to escape her comedy-sketch roots, but with Dorothy she creates a wonderfully textured woman who completely captures our hearts. In the end, she's the reason to see this film.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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