1 item from 1998
Most of the crucial scenes in writer-director William Nicholson's debut take place in the magic time when the sun's gone down, the candles are blown out and the flames flicker in the fireplace. As a central motif for a romantic period film about secret sexual encounters and a Mother Love's for her cast-off daughter, Nicholson's conceit is not intrinsically flawed, but almost everything else to do with the film is.
A Miramax release initially scheduled for unveiling a year ago, "Firelight" is another strong leading role for Sophie Marceau ("Anna Karenina") -- at least it must have seemed so on paper. Women young and old are the target audience, but only more literary-minded audiences will peruse this yawner, which sinks into shameless melodrama and historical hokum.
The year is 1838 and Elisabeth (Marceau) needs money, lots of it. Resigned to a desperate scheme, she agrees to let a gloomy, English aristocrat's son impregnate her during encounters in a French hideaway. The child-
buying Charles (Stephen Dillane) has a crippled wife who is unable to move or talk.
There's almost nothing surprising in Nicholson's unliterary but always literal approach. As he paws her breasts and she achieves satisfaction, Elisabeth and Charles enjoy themselves a tad too much in their initial encounters. At least their child is born of passion if not budding love. Nine months later, the baby is taken away from Elisabeth, but in a storytelling flaw, we never see what she does with her earnings, though there's mention made at one point of a father in financial straits.
Charles' father, Lord Clare (Joss Ackland), is also a spendthrift, and his mishandling of the family fortune presents another major problem for his beleaguered son. With not much attempt at credibility, Elisabeth arrives at Charles' country estate as the new governess to her own daughter, but her plan is hardly a concrete one. Neither is Charles' when he discovers the sticky situation. His first impulse is to fire her on the spot, but because of her contract, she has a month to get him back into bed and get on the good side of young, spoiled Louisa (Dominique Belcourt).
Thrown into the smoldering scenario are Charles' patient, loyal sister-in-law (Lia Williams) and his American friend (Kevin Anderson), who is turned down by Elisabeth when he asks her to go away with him. These distractions don't keep the grand passion between Charles and Elisabeth going the full cycle, climaxing with Charles finally doing something about his hapless wife while the estate is put up for sale. Nicholson goes for big, weepy scenes that generally don't have the intended impact.
Marceau has an attractive dignity and forceful presence, but she has trouble carrying the picture when everybody else, with the exception of Belcourt, is so dull. Poor Dillane really has a washout of a character. We don't develop much sympathy for Charles. Otherwise, the film is by-the-books technically, from the naturalistic cinematography to the overwrought orchestral score.
Writer-director: William Nicholson
Producer: Brian Eastman
Executive producers: Carmen Finestra,
Dave McFadzean, Matt Williams,
Susan Cartsonis, Rick Leed
Cinematographer: Nic Morris
Production designer: Rob Harris
Editor: Chris Wimble
Costume designer: Andrea Galer
Music: Christopher Gunning
Elisabeth: Sophie Marceau
Charles: Stephen Dillane
John Taylor: Kevin Anderson
Constance: Lia Williams
Lord Clare: Joss Ackland
Louisa: Dominique Belcourt
Running time - 103 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1998
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