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dir Richard Laxton
scr Emma Thompson
prd Andreas Roald, Donald Rosenfeld, Sarah Wheale
with Dakota Fanning, Greg Wise, Tom Sturridge, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, David Suchet, Riccardo Scamarcio, James Fox, Derek Jacobi, Claudia Cardinale, Linda Bassett, Russell Tovey
release UK 10.Oct.14, US Nov.14
Pretty as a picture: Thompson and Fanning
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A notorious true story from Victorian Britain is brought to the screen with a searing sense of internalised emotion by screenwriter Thompson. With churning performances and a terrific recreation of the period, the film is a startling story of a woman caught in an impossible situation. So it's a shame that it's rather muted.
Since she was very young, Effie (Fanning) has been courted by noted art critic John Ruskin (Wise), who waits until she's 20 to marry her and move her in with his parents (Walters and Suchet) in London. But a happy married life remains elusive as John refuses to touch Effie, leading her to doubt her own intelligence and desirability. She's encouraged by Lady Eastlake (Thompson) to work things out, and after a trip home to Scotland with Ruskin and his painter protege Everett Millais (Sturridge), she begins to understand that maybe she's not the problem.
While this story is notorious as a scandalous love triangle, it's told here as the five-year odyssey of a young woman whose life was stolen from her by an uncaring husband. And it's made even more chilling by the understanding that Effie's experience probably wasn't that uncommon back in the day. Thompson's screenplay weaves together Effie's real-life experiences to construct a remarkably complex journey that's packed with compelling situations, even if the Victorian ethos keeps everything pushed below the surface.
There's a terrific range of key characters along the way, including Scamarcio as a young Italian who befriends Effie during a stay in Venice and an extended cameo from Tovey as a butler in the Ruskin home. Walters and Suchet are simply wonderful as parents who are so doting that it's terrifying. And the central drama is held delicately in the hands of Fanning, Wise and Sturridge, who beautifully underplay scenes that churn with unexpressed passion.
All of this repression dulls most of the film's sharp edges, as 21st century audiences long for some sweaty bodice-ripping. And some elements of the story are too understated, which leaves several key plot points annoyingly vague. But the script is peppered with wonderfully jagged scenes that reveal warmth and humour as a virtue that helps good people get through life and help each other. Although in the end it's difficult not to feel like the surly grumps deserve any misery they get.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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