The Last September

Troublemaker: As their way of life comes to an end, Lois (Hawes, top) causes ripples among the Ango-Irish (l to r: Smith, Birkin, Gambon, Shaw, Wilson).
dir Deborah Warner scr John Banville
with Keeley Hawes, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Jane Birkin, David Tennant, Gary Lydon, Richard Roxburgh, Jonathan Slinger, Lambert Wilson
99/Ireland 2h out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Set in 1920, The Last September examines the end of English rule in Ireland with an intriguing group of characters facing the end of life as they know it ... and as their ancestors had known it for generations. It's a beautifully made film, with gorgeous cinematography and a stellar cast. And yet it's just so relentlessly standoffish that it never quite comes to life.

At the centre is Lois (Hawes) a young woman oblivious to changes in the world around her. She's Anglo-Irish, a centuries-old group of Irish people who live (and sound) English. Living with her aunt and uncle (Smith and Gambon), she toys with the affections of a British soldier (Tennant) and a local IRA terrorist (Lydon) while various members of her household offer advice. Yes, it's essentially a coming-of-age story ... and will she realise the gravity of the situation before it's too late?

The actors are all excellent, giving their characters little details that make them absolutely fascinating. The script is extremely literary; everything is profoundly meaningful, including characters like the meddling, free-spirited Marda (Shaw) and the stunned, helpful Francie (Birkin). But this also means that it's all a bit obtuse and untouchable--it's virtually impossible to get a grip with the film emotionally, even as events begin to lead to tragedy. It's all just as restrained and stiff as the old-world characters who refuse to admit that everything is about to change. Interesting ... but not as moving as it should have been.

[15--adult themes and situations] 10.Apr.00
US release 14.Apr.00; UK release 5.May.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall