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There is nothing sentimental about this story of obsession. Set in London
in the 1950's--and what could be drearier--this bleak story based on the
true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in England, is a
tour-de-force for Newell, the director, the two leads, Richardson and
Everett, and the incomparable Ian Holm.
Miranda Richardson as Ellis gives a knockout performance in every scene. She has so perfectly captured the emotional pitch of a woman in love with a heel that one cannot help identifying with her. Her all-consuming love, even to the point of neglecting her son, makes it ridiculous to entertain the common query of "why doesn't she just get away from him?" Mike Newell captures all of the emotional highs and lows of a relationship of this kind, and the rakishly handsome Everett is both charming and destructive as Ellis's amor.
The beauty of this movie is that it is not just about two ill-fated lovers, the way many Hollywood movies are. It is also about England's class system. Ellis's attraction to Blakeley is more about her desire to be acknowledged by her "betters" than just by this one man. Perhaps the most heartrending scene comes at the end where one sees Ellis's painted finger going over a letter she is about to send on the eve of her execution to Blakeley's mother, apologizing for the misery she has caused her. The language of the letter is perfect, because it reveals volumes about Ellis's class aspirations, and the hopelessness of her ever achieving them.
This movie is a must-see for movie lovers, but it is not for the Meg Ryan set.
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.
Billing this as the tale of "the last woman who was executed in Britain"
sorta lets you know up front that Miranda Richardson's widescreen debut is
going to end badly.
Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) pulls gut~wrenching performances from his leads, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Everett & the always~underrated Ian Holm, in this fascinating fact~based story about utter sexual obsession.
Set in the dark '50s.
Ruth Ellis (Richardson) runs and lives above a nightclub/brothel frequented by several of London's wealthy gadflies. She's platinum blonde, all brass and ummm... well~liked by the local gentry.
She also has a young son named Andy, about to enter school, who turns the blindest of innocent eyes to Mom's lifestyle.
Enter David (Everett), a sullen alcoholic rich boy and LeMans auto racer wannabe who's taken in by Ruth's wiles within moments of seeing her for the first time ~ after being introduced to Ruth and her "club" by his equally well~heeled close friend Desmond (Holm).
What unfolds is the single most riveting ~ and more importantly, believable ~ love/hate relationship film I've seen. There have been tons of movies about obsessive lust (and I'm not talking about the flix they rent behind that door at the back of your video store whose "A" section takes up three aisles) but this one is a real treat.
David, you see, is seriously involved with another woman when he meets Ruth... yet beds the latter in quick fashion. The other woman (eventually his fiancee) is the rub. As is David's penchant for getting drunk and simultaneously developing still a third wandering eye.
Still, it's Ruth he wants. To the point of showing up at the oddest of times to woo (or just rant drunkenly, incoherently at ~ or just to hit) her. All the while winnowing his way deeply into Ruth and her son's hearts and lives.
Meanwhile Desmond stands stoically by until nearly the bitter end, supporting Ruth during LeMans~boy's long absences and sustaining her each time David fails to live up to his promises, which is pretty much always.
The "fights betwixt the leads" scenes are the best, the most creatively acted and directed.
After a while, Newell yanks you into the almost~triangle between the three and one begins to attempt to choose sides. This proves to be impossible, as none of the characters are particularly sympathetic.
IE: this ain't a Hollywood movie. Each character has flaws which are well~defined, there's no happy ending and (are you listening, Jim Cameron?)... no sequel.
Richardson is simply astonishing in her premiere. Each note she plays, screaming or smoldering, is just right (hence Miranda's Rights).
Everett's superb as the sociopathically obsessed lover.
And Holm is, well, brilliant. Color him unrequited with a vengeance.
9 of 10 Niro~Stars
I've just read the last user review on this film & I would advise
anyone who has any knowledge of the Ruth Ellis story to ignore it.
There were legal reasons why everything was not explained. The boy was
a result of a war time romance. Ruth Ellis also had a husband (&
daughter) who for legal reasons could not be named or mentioned. Ian
Holm played the part of her lover who did exist & did nothing to help
her once she was arrested.
If you don't understand the film read the following books first & then watch the film: Ruth Ellis: The Last Woman to Be Hanged (Robert Hancock) Ruth Ellis: My Sister's Secret Life (Muriel Jakubait, Monica Weller) Ruth Ellis, My Mother: A Daughter's Memoir of the Last Woman to Be Hanged (Georgie Ellis, Rod Taylor)
Personally I think the film is excellent but of course I did know the story before I watched it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Today, in the U.S., there is a strong desire to restore the death
penalty in homicide cases on most premeditated levels. In most states
that have a death penalty it is only supposed to be used in murders of
police officers and public officials. Certain states use it in any
homicide case which fit the minimum for making the perpetrator seem to
be planning to kill his victim for some time.
There is no clear right or wrong point on this controversy. Anti-death penalty advocates ignore the damage done to the family and friends of homicide victims, while pro-death penalty supporters forget that there are cases where the perpetrator is not as hopelessly bad as one imagines but had reasons that might mitigate.
It is of interest to Americans to see the same problem has and bedeviled other nations. In particular Great Britain. From 1950 - 1960 a series of great homicide cases shook up British belief in capital punishment. Some have been the subject of movies.
The first was the Christie / Evans Tragedy that was the subject of the film 10 RILLINGTON PLACE. Christie, a strangler and necrophiliac, killed over a dozen women burying the corpses in the walls and garden of his home. Two of the victims appear to be Mrs. Evans and her baby daughter. But Christie had been the chief witness for the prosecution of Timothy Evans for these murders in 1950. His testimony sent Evans to the gallows. Christie followed three years later. It took nearly a decade for the British Government to admit an error in executing Evans, who was posthumously rehabilitated.
In 1954 came the Craig - Bentley tragedy, the subject of the film LET HIM HAVE IT. Chris Craig, a youth of about 15, went on a criminal spree, followed by his mentally challenged playmate Derek Bentley (age 19). Chris hated policeman, and he and Bentley were cornered on a roof. Bentley was in police custody, and seeing a constable confronting the armed Chris shouted, "Let him have it, Chris!" The meaning of this sentence is in dispute to this day. Most likely Bentley was telling Chris to hand the gun to the constable. Instead, Chris shot and killed the Constable. Chris was underage, and could not be put to death. Bentley (who you remember was in police hands at the time of the shooting), was of the right age for possible execution. He was tried, convicted, and executed. Craig served a long term for a juvenile, was released, and eventually became a farmer.
The following year came this story: the Ellis - Blakeney tragedy. There have been other female killers who have been executed in Britain before Ruth Ellis. Edith Thompson, in the 1920s, comes closest to her in sympathy because she was a remarkable woman, and her conviction for killing her husband seemed due to her jury trying her more for adultery with the actual killer (her lover Frederick Byswater) than proof that she tried to murder her husband Percy (whom Byswater eventually did kill). She appears to have been in a physical state of collapse when she was hanged in 1922. More sympathy had been shown to Alma Rattenbury in 1935 when she and her lover were tried for killing her husband Frances, a prominent architect. She was acquitted (her lover got the death sentence), but she committed suicide thinking about the lover - who, ironically, was given a reduced sentence.
Edith Thompson and Alma Rattenbury were both good looking, and talented. Rattenbury was a part-time song composer, and Thompson's letters to Byswater shows a remarkable intellect at work. Similarly, Ruth Ellis was a good looking blonde, who was helping to run a social club (i.e. bar). She had a boy and a girl, and was cool and collected looking on the outside, but capable of having real emotional turmoil on the inside. She met an upper class amateur racing driver named David Blakeley, and they had a romance. But he dropped her, basically at the advice of his upper-crust friends and family. Ellis could not get him out of her system (despite the attempts of her friend and boss Desmond Cusins, who wanted to marry Ellis himself). Eventually, after Blakely and she had several public scenes, Ellis shot him to death on a public street. When asked later on (at her trial) if she intended to only wound him, she admitted she wanted to kill him. She was found guilty and hanged. But there was a tremendous uproar from the public. It was a typical French-style crime passion-ale, and deserved different treatment from say a murder connected to a robbery. As a result of the large revulsion felt by the British public, Ruth Ellis turned out to be the last woman in Great Britain to be executed.
The top three roles are Miranda Richardson as the doomed Ruth, wishing that she could get the right signals back from the self-centered Blakeney (superbly played by Rupert Everett). Between them they let Americans understand the crazy state of snobbery that exists in Britain even after two World Wars and the collapse of it's leadership position in the world. Blakeney does not really need too much convincing to dump Ruth - his friends the Findlaters (Tom Chadbon and Jane Bertish) put up the social pressure to do it (Ruth later blames the tragedy on their meddling). As for Cusins (Ian Holm) he is a man of abilities and some position who is hopelessly in love with a woman who won't look in his direction (but he's always ready to return being the doormat or helper of the same woman). It is a fascinating view of a doomed trio of losers, who could not break out of their interconnections and their incompatibilities.
When I saw this film nearly 15 years ago, I immediately became a fan of Miranda Richardson. Her unforgettable performance reminded me of a young Bette Davis in 'Of Human Bondage' (another story of a tragic, doomed woman). Few actresses could have matched the intensity of her Ruth.
Andy of Flatlands, yes maybe it was boring to you as it was based on fact, and face it the average working class person who lived in post war Britain had a boring and hard life. It is a damn good film, and you need to be able to work out the relationships for yourself without being spoon fed. I found it quite easy. I think you have missed the whole point of the miscarriage of justice that happened. Her speaking voice was typical of a working class women trying to be something she wasn't. Does the term "fur coat no knickers" mean anything to you? I suggest you watch it again. It is factual, damn good and worth watching. Miranda Richardson played the part really well as did all the cast. Their performances really were a great portrayal of the characters. By the way she was hanged (as a past tense and a past participle of hang, is used in the sense of "to put to death by hanging)not hung
This is a haunting, finely-crafted film that transports the viewer to another time and place from the very first frames of the movie. The sets, lighting, fashions, and make-up all unify to create a special cinema experience. It is restrained, refined, mature, and civilized. In its dark way, this film captures a type of story-telling magic that only movies can create. It is an eternal, personal favorite, and one of the best films of the decade. Miranda Richardson is irreplaceable; she inhabits the role, completely. The supporting cast is equally effective. Unfortunately, the latest DVD cover lacks the powerful, simple black-and-white design of vintage promotional material. The original imagery was as classic and elegant as the film, itself. It is a fine piece of movie-making. I wish more directors aspired to this type of work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Understandably, most of the attention went to Miranda Richardson's virtuoso performance as Ruth when this film first appeared, and time has done nothing to dim what must be one of the truly great female performances. Richardson's brilliance is in never taking a quick shortcut to sympathy for Ellis: she makes her selfish, vulgar and cruel, as well as vulnerable, haunted and uncertain. It's a stunning performance. It's worth noting though, that both Ian Holm and Rupert Everett are also excellent as the two men between whom Ruth vacillates. The design is inch-perfect: no love letter to the past, but a visceral recreation of a glamorous world with an unpleasant "backstage" and the script is magnificent: suggesting that Ruth's real crime is not murder, but not knowing - and sticking to - her place in 1950s British society. A cracking film.
Although best known for his blockbuster hits FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and LOVE ACTUALLY, Mike Newell does a splendid job of bringing this tragic tale to the screen. The cinematography is lush and the recreation of London in the 1950's, both sets and costumes, is brilliantly realized. Obsession can be a difficult subject to tackle and yet one is compelled by the script, the visuals, and most of all the consummate acting, to see this affair through to it's conclusion. Miranda Richardson is the woman trapped by her need to make a good living and her inability to disentangle herself from the clutches of a destructive affair. An incredibly young Ruppert Everett and the redoubtable Ian Holm make up the other two sides of this twisted triangle. While all three actors shine, Richardson's portrayal is one of an individual tortured by a relationship that can never be and at a loss to explain why it endures to herself or anyone else. Not for the faint of heart but well worth the effort. Based on a true story.
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