A Handful of Dust (1988)

PG  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  24 June 1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.8/10 from 1,408 users  
Reviews: 26 user | 13 critic

The wife's affair and a death in the family hasten the demise of an upper-class English marriage.


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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tony Last
Brenda Last
Richard Beale ...
Jackson Kyle ...
John Andrew
Norman Lumsden ...
Jeanne Watts ...
Kate Percival ...
Miss Ripon
Richard Leech ...
Roger Milner ...
Tristram Jellinek ...
Richard Last
Mrs. Rattery
John Beaver
Mrs. Beaver


We see the detritus of an abandoned camp in South America and a main character's hallucination. Then, the story beings. Tony and Brenda Last, lord and lady, live on his enormous estate with their young son. Tony's not much for parties, and Brenda joins London society, on the arm of a penniless man, John Beaver, a hanger-on at Tony's club. John is encouraged by his entrepreneurial mother, who sees a quid in Tony and Brenda. Brenda and John become lovers, Brenda spends more and more time in London, and Tony's without a clue. Then, bringing things to a head are tragedy, law suits, greed, and what should be a few-months' expedition to Brazil. We are each of us merely a handful of dust. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Drama | Romance


PG | See all certifications »




Release Date:

24 June 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust  »

Box Office


$1,560,700 (USA)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


The second of two 1980s British period films with the word "dust" in the title the first having been Merchant Ivory's Heat and Dust (1983) around five years earlier. See more »


Referenced in The Benchwarmers (2006) See more »


King Of Love My Shepherd Is
Traditional Irish melody
Words by Henry W. Baker (1868)
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User Reviews

A dusty handful
4 October 2004 | by (Lochawe, Scotland) – See all my reviews

At the end of this film, one wants to wash one's hands of the unmitigated cruelty pervading the atmosphere. The deliberate pace of the thirties setting (beautifully portrayed using the right houses, and suitable sets and costumes) ensures that every nuance of behaviour is clearly understood by the audience, and this is the great strength of the film. As I haven't read the book, but believe this is a faithful adaptation, I can commend both Charles Sturridge and the superb actors for translating what must be a difficult, but brilliant, novel by Evelyn Waugh, not only into an impressive film, but one that conveys thirties morals and social privilege in a way that rings true for today's 21st century attitudes.

I think this is the best performance I have ever seen by James Wilby. Cuckolded by his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas in a fantastic debut performance), suffering from the death of his only son, he turns from a kind and gentle husband to one who wreaks revenge on his wife by cutting off all financial support. His agony over his son is exactly restrained in the manner of the period, his embarrassment over setting up the grounds for divorce by being caught in flagrante, his bewilderment when one would think he should be released from torment but is trapped by a vindictive eccentric (Alec Guinness, as usual, quite amazing) in the middle of the jungle, after nearly dying of fever, is a tour de force. This is his film, but Kristin Scott-Thomas (who was the original reason I watched this film in the first place), is simply delightful as the spoil, bored wife who can't resist Rupert Graves's boyish charm and dilettante lifestyle. No wonder Robert Altman chose her for Gosford Park; she is made for these roles. Her character's brittle insouciance, total selfishness and insensitivity, her lack of concern for her husband and son while she pursues alleviation from boredom with Rupert Graves, is reminiscent of Daisy Buchanan's behaviour in The Great Gatsby. Kristin Scott-Thomas shows a sophistication and acting aplomb which is breathtaking.

Rupert Graves is convincing as the shallow man-about-town sponging off others but seducing charming to the ladies; Judi Dench gives a lovely cameo as his bourgeois mother; Cathryn Harrison is good as Millie, who is supposed to provide the evidence for the divorce; and Alec Guinness in one of his final roles, is chillingly menacing.

I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good story well told, excellent acting, and a period setting.

45 of 46 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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