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Film review: 'Talk of Angels'

26 October 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Picture-postcard pretty but emotionally vapid, "Talk of Angels" has all the elements of a classy romantic drama -- an exotic locale, political intrigue and, of course, illicit love -- minus any convincing substance.

It's based on Irish author Kate O'Brien's controversial 1936 novel "Mary Lavelle", which was banned in Ireland on charges of "immorality." (O'Brien was subsequently kicked out of Spain by the Franco regime.) The film adaptation, marking the feature debut of theater director Nick Hamm, itemizes all the key personalities and events without giving viewers much to truly care about.

While it may be enough to satisfy those looking for a Harlequin Romance-style quick fix, "Talk of Angels'" will likely take speedy flight to the video heavens.

Taking its name from an Irish phrase that's equivalent to "speak of the devil," the film tells the story of Lavelle (the beauteous Polly Walker), a young convent girl who leaves Ireland behind to work as a governess in Spain at one of those ultra-bourgeois households with which Luis Bunuel would have had a field day.

Presided over by hovering matriarch Dona Consuelo (Marisa Paredes), a woman who has clearly seen too many Joan Crawford movies, the Areavaga clan is just one of your average wealthy Spanish families on the verge of disintegration as civil war looms large.

As her husband, the idealistic Dr. Vicente Franco Nero) secretly tends to injured radicals, her son Francisco (Vincent Perez), trapped in a loveless marriage, eyes the comely Mary and the laws of mutual attraction take over.

Despite the counseling of a colorful group of fellow expatriate Irish women who function as the picture's Greek chorus -- including the big-sisterly O'Toole (Ruth McCabe) and the tormented Conlon (Frances McDormand), who confidentially admits to having a forbidden crush on Mary -- our heroine finds herself at a tricky crossroads in a city on the brink of irrevocable change.

Romantic leads Walker and Perez certainly make a photogenic pair and have done fine work elsewhere (she in "Enchanted April", he in "Queen Margot"), but they fail to ignite a convincing spark chemistry-wise, which is obviously crucial to the story's effectiveness.

Director Hamm is underserved by the perfunctory script credited to Ann Guedes and Frank McGuinness. But he tries to compensate with artful framing and thoughtful composition, for which he is richly served by the contributions of cinematographer Alexei Rodionov ("Orlando") and production designer Michael Howells ("Ever After").

But in the end, it's all very attractive frosting on an unsatisfying, underbaked cake -- angel food or otherwise.


Miramax Films

Director: Nick Hamm

Producer: Patrick Cassavetti

Executive producers: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Donna Gigliotti

Screenwriters: Ann Guedes, Frank McGuinness

Director of photography: Alexei Rodionov

Production designer: Michael Howells

Editor: Gerry Hambling

Costume designers: Liz Waller, Lala Huete



Mary Lavelle: Polly Walker

Francisco Areavaga: Vincent Perez

Dr. Vicente Areavaga: Franco Nero

Conlon: Frances McDormand

O'Toole: Ruth McCabe

Dona Consuelo: Marisa Paredes

Pilar: Penelope Cruz

Beatriz: Ariadna Gil

Running time -- 97 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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