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I first heard of this movie at work in 1984 when I saw an engineer who had the movie ad pinned up in his cubicle. I'd had this movie in the back of my head and always meant to check it out, but I've never seen it for rental and didn't want to risk plunking down $20 to order it. It was worth the wait.
Miranda Richardson, probably best known for The Crying Game and Sleepy Hollow (Now there's a combo!) stars as Ruth Ellis, a deluded romantic from 1950's England who managed to ride a sexual obsession to her own execution, the last on the books in the country's history. All this comes at the expense of a man who truly loves her, and a son who is not a priority in her life, to say the least. Ellis was adored, worshipped even, by clumsy businessman Ian Holm, but she only has eyes for Ruppert Everett. Everett's a hot shot car driver working on some new car design that's he convinced is going to revolutionize the auto industry. He exudes the confidence that Holm couldn't hope to possess. All three performances are outstanding.
As the story unfolds, director Mike Newell seems to pull no punches. I don't know the how's or the who's of this case, but Newell gives this film an authenticity many strive for, but few attain. In essence, it's Holm's character that is hung out to dry. He has to stand by as Everett continually denigrates Richardson both physically (A few punches, a glass of booze in the face,etc.), and emotionally (Too many episodes to count). Holm could have been molded into a flawed hero, and perhaps he would have been in the hands of a director with eyes on receipts instead of craft. Everett's character could have slipped into melodrama, as well. He has a roguish charm, I suppose, but he's basically just a spoiled rich boy, the type to bring a low class Richardson too his parents estate, and be suprised when she is intimidated.
At the center is Richardson, bringing Ruth Ellis back to life. It's disturbing how she can see what she's doing to her young son, truly care for him, but not let it effect her. Even more reprehensible is watching her use Holm to watch her child while she crawls back to Everett after another beating, to sneak a quickie in a fog-filled back alley.
Mike Newell directed Donnie Brasco, an excellent film which took a similar, bleak look at the life of a policeman who set aside his family in the name of his job. Newell didn't flinch in painting Joseph Pistone (The real life cop), as an obsessed man who started to lose his own identity. Pistone's family pays a heavy price for his dedication (misplaced?), but Ruth Ellis' paid even more. She left a son alone, and it's not a stretch to infer that he led a desperate life, based on what we learn in the closing comments.
Don't wait 16 years to see this film, like I did. Hunt it down on cable, or check out your local video store. This is a small story that gets big treatment.
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