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A very British relationship drama crossed with a medical thriller rather stiff but watchable
Leaving a New Years party, Steven Monks leaves his wife to drop a friend home while he pops into the hospital to pick up a camera. When he arrives he is asked to consult on a patient upstairs only to find that she has a case of smallpox. When a second case comes in the next day, a outbreak is feared and the doctors and police begin to try and trace the original case's movements. While Steven tries to help fight the disease, he cannot manage to hold together his crumbling marriage and the race to contain the outbreak proves to be a personal one.
I wasn't sure what this film was about when I sat down to watch it, and I'm not too confident now of being able to pigeonhole it into a genre. The plot is a mix of two different threads. The first thread is the outbreak of smallpox; this is delivered reasonably well, with some vague tension early on. However as the film progresses it just becomes a bit flat and there is no urgency and the plot gradually becomes more about the second thread. The second thread is a personal one of marriages, adultery and pain and it is interesting even if the setting of an outbreak seems to be out of place. Steven and Julie are having major problems not helped by his secret affair with the wife of another doctor. At times this is interesting but for most of the time it is all very stiff and kitchen sink only once (Steven with the priest) do raw nerves get exposed and challenges made, but then even this is a fleeting moment. This is a shame because it could have been a tense relationship moment set against a tense background of disease, but it didn't manage to do either that well.
This is not to suggest that it is rubbish, because it isn't. The writing is good and the film as a whole is enough to keep you watching but I didn't ever feel really involved or gripped in either storyline. Writer/director/producer Val Guest must take some of the blame for this, even if he has quite a few famous films under his belt, he can't quite do it here. His words are stiff and his direction matches it it's all very, well, English, but I didn't think that that fitted with the reality of the story that was being told. I could forgive some of it for being dated and perhaps told at a different pace; but then on the other hand the film also seemed to be pushing the boundaries of the period with rather frank tale at times, the adultery theme running through and a bit of slight nudity.
The cast are reasonably good but none of them really get panicked about the disease or deeply emotional over their marriages; the most we really get is a bit of sobbing here and there. Johnson is solid as Steven and he isn't afraid to let his characters weaknesses come out even if I think he let him off a bit lightly at times. Bloom is better but the material doesn't let her go as far as her performance indicated that she was trying to. Support is all solid enough like the lead two, they all do well with what they have but none really stand out.
Overall this is not a bad film but I wouldn't describe it more that interesting or watchable. The two threads make for an interesting mix and potentially a dual interest story but they don't mix that well (one gradually taking over the other) and neither is really engaging or emotionally involving as they should have been given their tense and/or emotive themes. An interesting watch but not one I could imagine sitting down to again for a long time.
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