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Angels and Insects
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Angels and Insects More at IMDbPro »

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44 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

A Rich and Thought Provoking Experience

Author: jhclues from Salem, Oregon
16 July 2002

Strong performances highlight this film, set in Victorian England during a time when science and society overlap to reveal secrets of nature, as well as some of the deeper secrets born of the human condition, which, as in the case of those depicted in `Angels and Insects,' directed by Philip Haas, were never intended for public disclosure, encompassing as they do, love, shame, ignorance and desperation, and all on a highly personal level. it's a film that points out that Man, the most intelligent and highly evolved species, without the accompanying responsibility often lacks the order and discipline of the common ant; and, unhappily (as this film so succinctly illustrates)-- such conditions do inexcusably prevail. And, that being the fact of the matter, in the end, all that separates us from the insects or the animals are the aspirations of those individuals who are determined to take us all to that higher level, no matter what the cost in terms of personal sacrifice, and in the final analysis, we are-- for better or worse-- only what we make of ourselves.

After ten years on the Amazon and surviving a shipwreck in which most of his work is lost, naturalist William Adamson (Mark Rylance), now lacking a home and means of his own, is taken in by his benefactor, Sir Harald Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp), who hires William to assist him with the writing of a book, as well as to tutor the younger of the children in residence on his estate. It's good fortune for William, who finds satisfaction in his work, as well as in making the acquaintance of one of Sir Harald's daughters, Eugenia (Patsy Kensit), with whom he quickly becomes enamored.

Eugenia, however, is a rather fragile flower, struggling with the inner demons of a dark secret born of unspeakable tragedy. A member of the family intimates to William the nature of Eugenia's distress, but though he then understands, he is prevented by class distinction and bloodline from assuaging her grief or pursuing her hand. He can offer only friendship; but as he soon discovers, where matters of the heart are concerned, friendship alone is a cold mistress. And despite his best efforts, the shadows that plague Eugenia's soul remain. William, though, is determined to break through her darkness and bring her into the light. But some secrets are better left buried, and before it's over, William may discover more than he bargained for.

Beautifully filmed and acted, working from a screenplay co-written by Philip Haas and Belinda Haas (adapted from the novel, `Morpho Eugenia,' by A.S. Byatt), director Haas sets a deliberate pace, which along with the stunning cinematography of Bernard Zitzermann, gives the film a riveting, hypnotic effect. The scenes explode in vivid bursts of color that are so aesthetically appealing to the eye, and which create such a pronounced atmosphere and tone, that the viewer is eased into the drama and summarily swept away by the story. Initially, Haas plays down the enigmatic nature of the tale, but gradually exposes what lies beneath, shading the terms of his revelations so very subtly and effectively. The keen eye will detect hints along the way, but Haas is so discriminating in his presentation that the real impact of the film is decidedly reserved for the denouement, which is extremely effective. Haas understands the emotional terrain with which he is dealing, and it shows-- both in the innate perspectives of human nature which he so readily conveys, as well as in the performances he obtains from his actors.

As Adamson, Mark Rylance lends a quiet, personable charm that works perfectly for his portrayal of this man who has seen, perhaps, too much of the world, and as a result, by choice takes that which is pleasing to him at face value. It's an honest depiction of a just man, who views the world about him objectively and without judgment, which in the end, of course, is to his detriment. It is the quiet strength of Rylance's performance, however, that makes it so effective and emotionally involving.

Patsy Kensit does an admirable job of capturing the angst of Eugenia, this young woman who lives in a seemingly perpetual state of inner-turmoil. She creates a character that is sympathetic, but who evokes little empathy, which is quite in keeping with who Eugenia really is, the woman hiding behind the same mask that guards her unbearable secret. And it's effective work, too, inasmuch as she presents Eugenia as fragile, but not too vulnerable, which goes far in establishing the true nature of her character.

It is Kristen Scott Thomas, however, who gives the most memorable performance of all, as Matty Crompton, a member of Sir Harald's extended family. Scott Thomas, so extraordinary in such films as `The English Patient' and `Random Hearts,' has never been better than she is here. Her portrayal of Matty is entirely honest, presented in terms that are so effectively subtle and understated, and which align so perfectly with the discerning approach Haas takes, that she successfully elicits the empathy of the viewer. This is, without question, an Oscar-worthy performance, coincidentally coming in the same year that Scott Thomas was nominated for Best Actress for her work in `The English Patient.' It goes without saying that it was an incredible, memorable year for this incredible actor.

The supporting cast includes Douglas Henshall (in an extremely noteworthy performance as Eugenia's brother, Edgar), Annette Badland (Lady Alabaster), Chris Larkin (Robin), Anna Massey (Mrs. Mead), Saskia Wickham (Rowena), Clare Redman (Amy) and Paul Ready (Tom). The metaphor of the ant colony makes a thought provoking statement about the potential for dysfunction among the higher, more `intelligent' life forms in the absence of moral discipline and the responsibility carried by Man as the most highly evolved of all creatures. Engaging entertainment and much more, `Angels and Insects' is a plea for humanity to be the best that we can possibly be. And it's the magic of the movies. 9/10.

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23 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant film; one of the year's best!

Author: pied from Ohio
6 March 1999

One of the most intricate, well-made films I've seen. The acting is tremendous, the imagery is subtle yet stunning. A film which makes one think of the intricacies of human relationships. The pilgrimage of the hero from the brutal Amazon to "civilized" society which he finds to be anything but civilized in spite of the gorgeous trappings of the upper aristocracy. Highly recommended!

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18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Almost Like a Painting Come to Life

Author: missyamerica18 from Connecticut
6 December 2004

As one fellow IMDb user stated, there are very few reviews in the grey area for "Angels and Insects". However, I can honestly say that when I first saw the film in 1995 (I was about 12 at the time) I wasn't very impressed. From a very young age I have been interested in period films and thought provoking themes, however, upon first viewing I was incredibly bored by the whole project.

Flash forward to 2003 and I found that I had a whole new appreciation for the film. As a matter of fact, it has become one of my favorites. I don't find the plot particularly shocking, however, the execution of the script is excellently paced. I like the fact that William Adamson realizes that beauty isn't necessarily exhibited on the outside. (However, I find Matty to be far more striking in appearance than Eugenia). He realizes that like his insects (ants in particular), the Alabaster family has a unique and questionable structure/nature.

The soundtrack, costumes, and use of light and location are superb. It isn't by accident that the costumes mimic some of the insects mentioned in the film. (For example, Eugenia's bee dress and her Morpho Eugenia sapphire gown). The Alabaster estate is quiet a piece of eye candy, as are the shots of insects set to the beautiful string based soundtrack. Though this use of symbolism may not be very original, it is beautiful just the same.

I do have to come to the defense of some of the actors, however. Some comments mention that the acting is somewhat wooden. I tend to disagree. (Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course). Okay, so Patsy Kensit may not be the next Vanessa Redgrave, however, I think she offers what the part calls for. Her "wooden" nature fits the character. I see Eugenia as having a definite mental imbalance, thus her often subdued acting seems appropriate. Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the clever and mysterious Matty. As for the rest of the cast, I believe that they all did a fine job portraying these somewhat difficult characters.

I have yet to read the A.S. Byatt novella "Morpho Eugenia", however, that is going to be my next project. Naturally, I would be curious to see how the film and the novella compare. Either way, I still feel that "Angels and Insects" deserves my highest regards.

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20 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

Bravo!! A great watch for the jaded.

Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
28 April 2001

"Angels and Insects" is a slow starter with several strikes against it from the outset. First, the title is a turn-off (from the Byatt book of the same name). Secondly it's a period piece (circa mid 19th century England). Thirdly it factors in Darwinism, Amazon natives, ants and insects, and other esoteric subjects which don't make films appealing to the masses. Finally it has none of the usual Hollywood tinsel and trappings. Those, however, who can get past all that will find a masterpiece of filming, acting, directing, writing, costuming, orchestration, etc. A slowly captivating and somewhat melancholy story of the goings-on within an English manor, "A&I" delivers powerful drama, sterling performances, and masterful execution by the auteur. A great watch for those who love cinema for cinema's sake.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

This is an exceptional movie...

Author: inframan from the lower depths
19 February 2000

Angels and Insects is one of the most visually stunning movies I have ever seen but every bit of the immense beauty & luxury that is on the screen contributes to the sense & definition of exquisite excess that is so ingrained in the Alabasters' way of life. If one imagines this movie as a 1940s Hollywood effort, perhaps starring Olivier & Fontaine, ala Rebecca, then one must really appreciate the subtly shaded performances. I have never seen better acting onscreen, especially in the performances of Rylance & Thomas. And all the interplay of idea & emotion, science & passion, objectivity & subjectivity, so rarely transferable from print to film are so brilliantly achieved here. Hey, even the sex scenes are among the best I've ever viewed.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Mature and fascinating

Author: Arkaan Semere (
18 March 2000

This was thoroughly engaging and thoughtful film, with a rich and fascinating plot and characters.

The opening scene of the natives of South America dancing is a well edited opening, and the word 'Angels" appears over it. Indeed, all the Angels in this film are not in England (where the rest of the film takes place). William Adamson (Mark Rylance), a biologist who collects rare insects (especially the butterfly), survives a shipwreck and comes under the protection of an upper class English family. That's where he falls in love with Eugenia (Patsy Kensit). But every family has it's secrets.

Someone described this as "Merchant-Ivory meets Tennessee Williams", which is a perfect way to describe this film.

Several have complained about the actors, saying that there is not a single stand-out performance. I disagree, as both Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas (in a performance worthy of an oscar nomination) acquit themselves well. The script is also very well written, and the costumes deserved the Oscar nomination.

One of the ten best of 1996.

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9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Beauty on the outside only

Author: anonymous from Florida
17 October 1998

Think of a coffin- beautiful metal or wood, but with death inside, so to the Alabasters are beautiful to look at but rotting inside. Or have you ever watched ants clean up a carcass of roadkill. Angels and Insects has some of the most beautiful costumes I've ever seen, but one of the most shocking stories. Will Adamson as Mark is very subdued,as Kristin Scott Thomas remarkable as Matty- who proves to be the real beauty.

I like how the director kept giving us subtle hints and then was not afraid to throw the truth in our faces- like being hit by the bucket of ice water. A.S. Byatt's story is well translated into film .

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9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Stunning acting and subtlety and sexuality

Author: netsmith2001 from Marin, California
24 November 2004

This movie presents a brilliant stage worthy level of acting to the screen. I was stunned by the quality and subtlety of the performances especially the lead and Kristin Thomas. The story is almost painfully slow but that helps create a mood and sexual tension that works perfectly. I was literally on the edge of my seat both with the drama of the characters and just wanting to be closer to their nuanced performances. Jeremy Kemp as the elder Lord of the manor Sir Harald Alabaster displays aristocratic intelligence rarely found in films. The dinner table discussions of the emergence of the radical new approaches to evolution and culture surrounding Darwin's revelations are compelling. Also the role of Edgar, representing the boorish son who clings to the old ways of class hierarchy is finely wrought. Highly recommended. A thoughtful film.

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12 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Inscrutable and tentative...

Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
26 October 2005

A U.S.-British co-production for PBS, from A.S. Byatt's story "Morpho Eugenia" (a better title!), this head-scratcher of a human drama involves a Victorian England bug-specialist who comes to stay with a wealthy family and falls in love with his benefactor's lovely but unstable daughter. A carefully plotted picture, which might mean slow or sluggish--yet the film is never boring. Moments of eccentricity, romance and surrealism are blended together with skill, and the actresses in particular (Kristen Scott Thomas and the wonderfully brave Patsy Kensit) are first-rate. It's a difficult film, but one worth staying with. **1/2 from ****

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

like a guilty pleasure?

Author: ( from north carolina
28 August 2002

i decided to tape this movie without watching it and save it for a rainy day, and did it ever pay off! this is a great movie. now i admire antonia susan's writing, but trying to slog through morpho eugenia (book from which this movie was made) was like a peculiar form of torture-- insect description til i thought i would vomit. never thought i would say this, but the movie is so much better! it has all you could want:great acting{no matter what some people say about patsy kensit, if they hadn't wanted some one with her particular talent she would not have been cast. so there.i bite my thumb at thee.} great costumes, setting, and surprise twist ending--! see this movie.

final words:watch it for the sheer guilty pleasure

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