Angels and Insects (1995) Poster

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A Rich and Thought Provoking Experience
jhclues16 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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Brilliant film; one of the year's best!
pied6 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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Almost Like a Painting Come to Life
missyamerica186 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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Bravo!! A great watch for the jaded.
George Parker28 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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Mature and fascinating
Arkaan18 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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This is an exceptional movie...
inframan19 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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Beauty on the outside only
lib-417 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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like a guilty pleasure?
Ever Evanovich MacLean28 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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Stunning acting and subtlety and sexuality
netsmith200124 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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Inscrutable and tentative...
moonspinner5526 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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A Man and His Moths - highly recommended
manuel-pestalozzi29 December 2013
I find this movie absolutely fascinating on all levels: basic idea, story, acting, imagery, set design, colors, music. It all fits together so well and tells a fascinating, rather sad story of beings, their limits and the way they deal with it in a time period of great changes and discoveries. Set entirely on a beautiful Neo Gothic country estate and its grounds, the plot evolves like a dream. The main character looks amazingly like Abraham Lincoln (the story is set during that president's lifetime but presumably in England). He is a man of reason and science - and of no means. He arrives as a kept intellectual and falls for the beautiful daughter of his benefactor. The attraction is exclusively erotic (the movie can be credited for some explicit sex scenes which are for once not gratuitous but as necessary as they are believable) and rather unexpectedly he finds himself adopted into the family and a permanent resident of Dreamland. Always of an alert disposition he observes - and is in turn observed and manipulated. Dreamland finally turns out to be a nightmare, the true nature of things small and not so small are revealed. The Odyssey continues.
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Subtle and nuanced acting
novelle2 July 2003
Kristin Scott Thomas gives an Oscar worthy performance full of nuances and subtleness in tune with a by gone Victorian era when nothing is outrightly spoken but always hinted at so unlike our lurid confessional age. Thomas can infuse a scene with a multiplicity of meaning through a movement of the wrist or a tilt of a head and trounces Emma Thompson's lauded performance of British reserve in "Remains of the Day". To appreciate this film you need an artist eye, others who dislike it would be better off getting whacked with a sledgehammer.
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A marvelous story sunk by a heavy hand
franzfelix19 September 2006
Angels and Insects is a thoughtful adult tale predicated on an anagram of the word "Insect." It benefits from a provocative story, interesting collection of characters, the charm of a period setting, and several philosophical and social musings, all worthy of consideration. The casting is generally admirable, as is the carefully selected country house setting. Unfortunately, all of this is brought to ruin by Philip Haas' inept directing. Haas is unable to elicit a single convincing reading from any of his characters, each one single dimensional and unsympathetic. Haas does not believe his audience capable of following the subtle story, so every symbol set in florescence, every theme overstated and restated ad nauseam, every moment of foreshadowing underlined and forced. This heavy handed approach is exacerbated by Paul Brown's ridiculously overwrought costumes, which try frantically to convey the image of humans as insects. Worst of all, Alexander Balanescu contributes a genuinely ugly and distracting musical score, which could ruin a far better film. For example, in an early scene when Adamson returns to Britain and is feted at a private ball, instead of using authentic music to nail the period effect and introduce all the elegant and subtle feelings that run beneath the Victorian surface, Balanescu concocts a drone that is an explicit imitation of locusts. This scene, which could be such a foil to the dance in the Amazon that precedes it, is utterly dreadful. If it is artistically useful to scream that humans and bugs are the same, Haas' approach might have worked. For the viewer who prefers to construct his own meanings and contexts, he will deplore that something intelligent has been debased to middle school stupidity. Perhaps those who admired "The Piano" (another film that frantically worried the view would not Get The Message, constantly harassed by garbage music) would also like this film. This viewer regretted that a marvelous story, worthy of a master filmmaker's hand, was wasted, as it is unlikely that anyone will ever attempt a remake. Pity.
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Slow developing drama, much like reading a novel.
TxMike25 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers

My wife and I saw this film, "Angels and Insects", on DVD. The filming is beautiful and the acting first-rate. In all it is about a 19th century naturalist, who studies insects among other things, while being kept at the country mansion of British wealth. He takes a liking to the unmarried daughter, and inexplicably her married brother is against their relationship, especially after a few glasses of red wine. Still, they marry, he is by all appearances a very decent man,they have passionate sex at certain times, bear two sets of twins plus a son that she wants to name after her brother.

But one day instead of going on the fox hunt he comes home early to find his wife and her brother naked in bed, engaged in sex. He figures out that all of their children were products of the incestuous relationship, which had started when they were children and she just couldn't break out of. Understandably he leaves, and takes with him Kristin Scott Thomas's character, with whom he had made a platonic bond while they studied nature together, and she wrote a book.

So, in sum it is just a good old human nature drama involving incest and broken relationships. Incest is not something often treated in film, but I suspect it is more common, historically, than most of us realize. A worthwhile film, for adults, but not one of my favorites of recent years.
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Bugs are more interesting than these people
Brian Ellis26 March 2002
Glossy costume drama that is inert for two thirds of the movie. A lot of this has to do with Mark Rylance speaking so softly and hesitantly that one wants to tell him to get on with it. But the main problem is that Patsy Kensit is way over her head with this one. The only time I thought she was really acting was when she panicked when she was getting covered with moths (and methinks that she was really panicking). Also, Kristin Scott Thomas' Matty, instead of coming across as a champion of liberated women everywhere was merely reduced to a know-it-all that I tired of pretty quickly. The film's only saving grace was the references to insects, which was rather interesting. Other than that, a rather boring historical picture with some shocking subject matter to make it relevant.
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I wish humankind would create such altruistic virtues, but sometimes I think socialism may never be realized.
lastliberal16 May 2009
A fascinating film about people acting like insects. The costuming is beyond brilliant, but it is the actions of the people that really are striking in this film.

The matriarch of the family is definitely a Queen ant or bee. She constantly gorges herself as the others flutter about serving her.

But it is Eugenia (Patsy Kensit) who is the focus of the film. A poor naturalist (Mark Rylance) is madly in love with her, but her racist brother (Douglas Henshall) warns him that he is not of the right class and should be real. William (Rylance) flits ever so cautiously towards Eugenia's web and is ensnared. I am sure there is something beneath the surface here; maybe the same something that caused Eugenia's former fiancée to kill himself.

But, it is not always the beautiful butterfly that attracts. Sometimes, it is a plain little ant like Matty Crompton (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is busily working on her own plans for William.

This all takes place shortly after Darwin's Origin of the Species was published, and during the Civil War in America. Both colored the story.

Upon the death of Mother, Eugenia ascends the role of Queen ant, continuing to produce heirs. At the same time, a collaboration of William and Matty results in a book being published.

Then the shocking secret comes forth.

Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas were all fantastic in this shocking tale.
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Gorgeous, Stately...Mysterious
cookiela200126 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I remember all the critics raving about this when it came out, but I avoided it because I have to be in a special mood to swallow costume dramas. (I usually just can't relate, and the men are more often than not a tiresome drag, popping out of heavy draperies to shout "Tally Ho, you young rascal" or some such swill. Stow it, Brother!)

I was therefor surprised to find this movie so compelling. First of all, the acting is very naturalistic, especially that of the male lead. (I absolutely loved the pretty, babbling, OBESE mother, always groaning over tarts or berries in cream. What a weird yet perfectly plausible character for the time period!) The strange, brilliantly colored costumes are imaginative and sumptuously designed, with a psychology all their own.

What's really interesting about the film is its subtle, controlled sense of menace. Specifically threatening things don't happen in the story until the final third, but you just know something's festering beneath the surface. Maybe it's because this bloated household is so isolated? I'll definitely watch this movie again. It's made with taste, style, and a creepy intelligence.
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Worth seeing again and again
dubyah120 September 2003
There are few movies better than the novel that spawned them, and 'Angels & Insects' [from A.S. Byatt's 'Morpho Eugenia'] is one.

Mark Rylance, better known for his Globe Theatre Shakespearean productions, is excellent as a poor-but-honest Victorian naturalist who has lost everything except a few prized specimens in a shipwreck while heading home to England after years in the Amazon jungles.

Patsy Kensit, the melancholy beautiful daughter of his patron Sir Harald Alabaster, enchants him and accepts his proposal. They continue to live with her family in the Alabaster stately home, populated by her over-protective swinish brother, her many seemingly identical siblings and later offspring, and her bloated queen-bee of a mother.

Kristin Scott Thomas of 'The English Patient' is the drably dressed worker-ant of a governess to the Alabaster children, Rylance's intellectual equal who shows him the rot behind their privileged but stagnant lives and catalyzes him into action.

I found the extremely vivid costumes of the upper-class women distracting, and mentioned this to a friend who works in the textiles department of a museum who said it was actually authentic: Victorian Europe was in love with the newly invented analine dyes, and both sexes in all classes revelled in garish colour combinations such as bottle-green and violet [insect colours ;-) ].

Back to the movie: there are adult themes, graphic soft-focus sex and frontal female AND male nudity for a change, but one of the most erotic moments is the married Rylance day-dreaming about Scott Thomas's naked wrist.

What makes 'Angels & Insects' worth watching and re-watching? The performances, of course, especially of Rylance as the quiet hero with 21st century sensibilities [watch the scene of him with his brother-in-law and their different definitions of courage], the theme of the Alabaster home as hive, the showy, needy, damaged butterfly wife versus the drab, resourceful, repressed but passionate governess, but even the opening credits are wonderful. Imagine a staid principled Victorian man of science thrust into a fire-lit circle of naked dancers in the Amazonian jungle and cut to him in a 19th-century English ballroom. Brilliant!

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Fascinating Film
piedbeauty373 March 2014
Great acting and directing plus an ingenious plot line make "Angels and Insects" a movie worth watching. Returning to civilization from the Amazon, Mark Rylance is taken in by a wealthy, aristocratic family. He falls for the oldest daughter of the house, Eugenia, who is lovely but troubled. He thinks she is the most beautiful creature he has ever seen.

What he discovers about the Alabaster family is a dark secret which shatters his world.

The movie is beautiful to watch and a real thought provoker. I highly recommend it.
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Intelligent and Unsual British Drama
Andres Salama16 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
An intelligent and unusual drama, based on a short story by A.S. Byatt. In mid 18th century England, a penniless naturalist who has lost his prized specimens from the Amazon in a shipwreck (I think the movie meant him to be a young Charles Darwin, though an incident where specimens were lost in a shipwreck happened to his colleague Alfred Russell Wallace) gets a job cataloging specimens held by the Alabaster family in their country estate. He will eventually marry their daughter Eugenia (Patsy Kensit), despite the fierce opposition of her brother Edgar. Not long after having children with her, he will discover a terrible secret haunting the family. A cousin of the Alabasters, the bookish Matty (Kristin Scott Thomas) will turn out to be his only friend and ally. At times the movie looks like a strange cross between a film by James Ivory and a film by Peter Greenaway, with the Alabaster women carrying bright colored clothes that suggests different sort of insects. Even if you don't take the entomology references throughout comparing insects with humans very seriously, they are nonetheless fun. And the denouement is terrific.
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Fifi11 December 1998
As someone who usually keeps abreast of Antonia Byatt's work, this novel somehow escaped me and I saw the film first instead of the other way around this time. In the case of this film, Kristin Scott Thomas (a brilliant actress) was the draw. The film started out innocently enough with the ennuyes riches, the surly siblings, the whispering servants and the gentile (clueless) visitor. However, the secret, once revealed (and quite graphically, I might add) made me go vertical in my seat! Quel choc! REALLY a must-see!
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an engaging period piece, am i growned up already?!?!?
andrewmaxr24 February 2002
I approach period pieces with trepidation at best, terror at worst. Much to my surprise ‘Angels and Insects' turns out to be a remarkable film. The plot is established early on, and moves in wonderfully understated and subtle ways, staving off boredom at every turn.

William Adamson (Mark Rylance) plays a commoner, a scientist, just returned from an expedition from the Amazon where he was studying the indigenous wildlife. During his return voyage, he survives a shipwreck but his specimens and research do not. His patron (sponsor?) is sympathetic to the protagonist, and sympathetic to the sciences, so employs him to live at the estate in exchange for tutoring the family's youngest daughters. The drama unfolds through William's relationships with the patron's older children: one son, three daughters.

As requisite of any Victorian story, the costumes are breathtaking. Particularly visually amusing are the often-matching outfits of William's students.

The acting is brilliant, as one would expect from a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Mark Rylance and Oscar/SAG Award Nominee, Kristen Scott Thomas. Douglas Henshall as Edgar Alabaster, the elder son in the household, is a real surprise. But excellent acting aside, what gives these talents the room for such rich expression lies in the script by Phillip and Belinda Haas. Having not read the book on which it was based (Morpho Eugenia), I have no idea how much of the dialog has been transplanted and how much written anew. Regardless of where the credit belongs, there is a phenomenal depth in the lines of the dialog. These capture the repression and secrecy both of the era in general and the Alabaster house in particular exquisitely. There are times when the literary satisfaction is similar to that of reading a well-constructed novel. Very impressive for a movie.

In all, ‘Angels and Insects' is a rich romantic drama whose dialog buoys the plot through the treacherous Victorian Age. I'm still looking for the ‘Angels' though.
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An erotic, sumptuous look at sex in the Victorian era
ron-22012 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
*** Contains Spoilers ***

Once in a while a film is so riveting that you lose track of time or place. Such a film is Angels and Insects.

The plot descibes itself quickly with no need of help. What is fascinating is the crisp articulation of every word spoken. One realizes that this is way we spoke in America before our English got so sloppy that now we sit in a movie and miss dozens of lines because nobody has taken the care to pronounce their lines clearly.

Angels and Insects takes us into the snobbish atmosphere of a Victorian home. The English "class system" is beautifully illustrated and the characters in the movie are so well delineated that it is as if we had been personally introduced.

The movie has some gorgeously costumed scenes, so unlike the films we see nowadays when the make actors seldom wear a decent suit and tie.

The subject of incest is dealt with in a breathtakingly plausible way and, despite your disgust for such behaviour Patsy Kensit skillfully explains her vile obsession for it.

Mark Rylance as James is absolutely perfect as an actor and Kristin Scott Thomas is mouthwaterling good. Douglas Henshall plays the British snob so well I could have personally whipped him and Annette Badland, dying with apoplexy is better than all those Jimmy Cagnet death scenes we watched years ago.

This is a great film and well worth explaining to your children as they mature. Not for kids or pentacosts.
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One of the best kept secrets of film making.
donmac728 August 2000
To have produced such a wonderous film and have it snuck out to the viewing public is quite an accomplishment. The exlplanation escapes me. From the opening scene to the crawl of credits,this one hell of a movie. It achieves a complex intellectual portrayal while maintaining the pace of a well told story. It has everything a lover of the art could desire.
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Darkly comic and provocative
Sean Gallagher18 March 1999
One thing that often irritates me about costume dramas, or period pieces, is they fall in love with the scenery or the clothes and they forget about the story and the characters (the only reason, I'm convinced, Oscar categories like Best Costume Design exist is to award those who can show off the best). This film, from the somewhat dry but fascinating novella MORPHO EUGENIA by A.S. Byatt, avoids that trap, or rather, it subverts it. Costumes are in full asunder here, but used to advance the plot, rather than to distract from it. So what we see is not a drawing room exercise, but rather a dark and provocative comic tale of the Victorian era. Things may seem a little slow at first, but it turns out director and co-writer(with wife Belinda) Philip Haas is setting us up, and the pay-off was astonishing, at least to me.

Besides the way the tale is told, the best reason to see this is to see another great performance by Kristin Scott Thomas. Here, she's almost as good as she was in THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Like the movie, Thomas'character, Matty, doesn't seem much at first, but gradually you realize there's a lot going on that she's not revealing, and you always sense something going on behind those eyes. It's further proof how good an actress she is.
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