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Set in 1870s England, the story tells of Annabella Lagrange and the terrible secret her wealthy parents have kept from her. When she finally learns the truth, she runs away and eventually finds solace in the company of her family's former groom, a young Irishman with the very Spanish name of Manuel Mendoza. Together they travel the Northumbria countryside from job to job in his horse and caravan, Annabella trapped in limbo between her upper class upbringing which has rejected her, and the working class who are sometimes suspicious of her, only Manuel understanding her situation. Written by
a tender and affectionate story of true love based on true friendship
Having never read the book, I don't know if this is a faithful adaptation of Catherine Cookson's novel, but as a film itself it does quite well. The storyline was interesting - watching two main characters develop and change over time through different circumstances. And the continuity held up, something that I have a problem with in many British films. The backdrop of 19th century England was beautiful as usual.
The casting was well done and the acting is superbly accomplished. Emily Mortimer plays Annabella beginning at age 17 and manages to pick up the innocence and charm of Samantha Glenn who plays Annabella as a child. Emily successfully develops the character from a slightly spoiled privileged girl into a woman capable of facing a cruel world, overcoming obstacles and learning lessons about life along the way. Brendan Coyle is excellent and plays Manuel Mendoza, the hired groom, as naturally as if he were born into the part.
Foreshadowing in the movie plays quite well. When Annabella is ten years old, she tells Mendoza that she considers him a friend and hopes that she might be his friend. His reply turns out to be prophetic and is echoed in slightly different forms as their relationship develops through the film.
Also in one scene we see Annabella as a little girl and Mendoza playfully tossing leaves into a brook. We watch as the leaves land in the water and together float away downstream. This foreshadowing of their life is repeated slightly in a scene where Annabella is bathing in a stream and we watch her soap bubbles float downstream to Mendoza.
One problem with the film, and I have found this to be typical of many British productions, is sound quality. The background music is very uneven and goes up and down often, causing unnecessary distraction.
Although as a whole the film is quite good, a weak part of the film that should have been better portrayed was the increasing love between the two main characters. As portrayed, it is difficult to tell just exactly where they each begin to realize their love for each other, and the mixed emotions that are occurring in each, causing so much difficulty for Annabella.
I would also have liked to know a little more about the background of Mendoza. Basically we know all about Annabella, because we have seen her grow up, but Mendoza's background remains somewhat of an enigma with just a few sentences here and there to suggest his background.
Sarah Hellings, the director, accomplished a delightful film, a tender and affectionate story of true love based on true friendship. Set in the background of 1800s England with beautiful scenery of the outdoors, we see the joy and tragedy of both sides of life - the privileged class and the working class. It tells us life is not always pretty or easy, but we can still make it good wherever we are.
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