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"How do you spell intangible'?" Dora Carrington asks of Lytton Strachey
midway through this film as she sits writing at her desk. How do you spell
intangible, indeed. Carrington tells the story of people who tried, in their
own way, and at a time when society did not encourage such experiments, to
acknowledge openly what most of us are aware of but still reluctant to
discuss: that a great many differences exist between love and desire.
Carrington is one of the great epic romances, but a romance where sexual congress between the two who are passionately in love with each other has nothing whatever to do with the deep wells of feeling they share with each ther. Like The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and Out of Africa, Carrington is a film that dares to examine the difference between desire and love, and looks at an adult subject in an adult way. As opposed to Hollywood's usual matter-of-fact insistence that love is a game with a win/lose dialectic simplistically painted in broad stokes, Carrington traces, rather, the fact that love is indeed a mystery which must be acknowledged and honored for the way that it can bring out the best in both people rather than a way of keeping emotional score.
Emma Thompson is able to bring out the awkward, self-effacing aspects of Dora Carrington all the way down to the pigeon-toed stance the way the real life Carrington apparently stood. With all the impatience of a little girl who wishes that one day she'll wake up and finally find herself to be a sophisticated woman, she worships Lytton for his "cold and wise" attitude, his ability to see straight through the conventions of the time, and adopts him as her emotional mentor.
She's an artist whom everyone in the Bloomsbury set knew, even though she never really considered herself a part of the circle, unlike Lytton, whom everyone swarmed around for his scorched earth policy of anti-Victorian insights and rapier wit. Carrington, it would appear, spent her whole life trying to figure herself out, like any true artist, and Thompson very ably transmits that lost quality throughout the film: even as she gains her confidence socially, sexually and artistically, the motivations of her heart she would never let be pressured, no matter how much physical affection and attention she needed. Which I think is an important distinction to make.
A virgin many years past the point of reason, it is as if Carrington bought in to the sexual revolution of the flapper era between the world wars and the way it tried to repeal the oppressiveness of Victorian morals, learning how to cultivate and appreciate the sensual needs of the body, but deep down realized that a healthy, vigorous sex life with a plethora of partners does not necessarily mean more love, but simply more sex. As Carrington points out in the film, with Lytton she was able to be herself in all her confusion and joy, and without the obligatory pressures of regular sexual performance was able to find in Lytton the only person she ever really felt emotionally comfortable with. Echoing that great line of TS Eliot's in Four Quartets, of a "love beyond desire."
Jonathan Pryce, as Lytton Strachey, has the honor of portraying one of the best screen roles of all-time. Like Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins, or Liza Minnelli's Sally Bowles, his performance as Lytton is so fully realized that his character becomes unprecedented. Incorporating the attitude of, say, a bearded Oscar Wilde, Pryce's Lytton takes no prisoners and is disgusted by what he sees around him: the behaviour of the upper classes he finds himself eventually skirting is embarrassingly inexcusable to his ethically conscientious grounding. English boys are dying, he scowls, for their right to shamelessly frolic on the lawns of garden parties.
When Lytton moves in with Carrington they both want commitment (with a small c), but also personal freedom. This ambiguity toward each other is parallel to their ambiguity toward the concept of fame, which they both courted in a very teasing way, but soon grew to realize that there is a lot more to be said for secure domesticity (no matter how loosely defined) than their behaviorally adventurous artistic peers. Because Carrington is intelligently written, directed, and acted, however, we do not see the behavior of each of them as simply willful and spoiled, but as part of the contradictions they need to stay individuals in a culture, and at a time, where the conventional notions of love and sex were strictly regimented.
Jonathan Pryce plays Lytton with a sort of detachment that is supposed to come from the character's distaste for commitment.
What's most surprising about this epic romance is that given the amount of territory it traverses (seventeen years) at an almost leisurely pace, it clocks in at only a hair over two hours, but when those two hours are over, you certainly feel as if you've been somewhere, seen something, been privy to so many more truths and realizations than you'll see in any other standard film about a romance. What we have here is a paradox: an old-fashioned story about an avant-garde arrangement. An intelligent, thoughtful love story, told with enough care and attention that we really get involved in the passions between the characters, not the algebra surrounding them.
If you require the overdone loudness, violence and aggressivity of an
American film (Training Day comes to mind), you'll need to take an extra
dose of Ritalin to get through this film. (That advice could have been
useful to a few of the previous reviewers, in fact.)
For those who don't have to be hit over the head, though, this film is a riveting masterpiece about the varied forms human love can assume--and a reminder that subcultures, like the Bloomsbury Group, have always given social norms a wide berth. British society has long tolerated eccentricity, especially when discreetly indulged, of which the nuanced contours of relationships among the literate in early-20th-century Britain provide an excellent illustration. Combine this refreshing glimpse of consensual mores with outstanding interpretations by Thompson and Pryce, and with fidelity to historical fact, and you've got two delightful hours of first-rate cinema on your hands.
And not an exploding car or a vengeance-driven, gadget-laden military operation against a demonized third-world country anywhere to be found. Amazing. And bravo. 9 out of 10.
This is possibly the best character study made in their last ten years. Taken from a biography of Lytton. This tells an emotionally complete tale of Dora Carrington and her love for Lytton. There is great drama here right from the start. Lytton is a homosexual writer who fancys young men. Dora is a painter who does not want to sleep with her "friend", because she believes its just for the physical (Which the film later shows to be true). Initially Dora is put off by Lytton (as is the viewer) but later as she says to him, She is burdened by one of the most self abasing loves for him. He also in turn loves her. But as he states they can do nothing about sleeping together. This is the contrast which is kept up throughout the whole film. All of Carringtons lovers physically love her body, and one of them even loves her (in a selfish way). But Lytton and Carrington love each other without sex, and their love is the strongest. As with the best Drama's, the character development never stops the whole way through. Each character is so well drawn and acted (Special credit must go to Emma Thompson and Jonathon Pryce, although the rest of the cast is also good) that you know how they are feeling even when it is not directly said or implemented. there is spoken and unspoken conflict in every scene. The two main characters are already in conflict while being in love. She loves him and he loves her but he is only attracted by men. Great drama manages to have conflict in every scene, and this one does. Great music from Micheal Nyman manages to capture the sentiments of this film especially well. So many more things could be said about the excellent narrative structure and lovely cinematography. But to be safe I will simply keep with my opening line. See Carrington. It does not pander to the audiences or ever become exploitational. It is a rare movie where the climax to the film is so fitting that you really can feel the emotion involved in these final frames. This is a film not to be missed.
Emma Thompson in a period piece--I would bet that's a pretty good movie,
'Carrington' did not disappoint me. It concerns the unusual relationship
writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and painter Dora Carrington
(Thompson) in their insular world of upper-class friends and other artists
in England between the Great Wars. When we first meet Strachey he's a
fastidious homosexual of thirty-six going on seventy-six. He mistakes
Carrington, with her bobbed hair and masculine clothes, for a boy. Despite
this inauspicious beginning, they soon find themselves fascinated with
other, then the fascination turns to love. Their non-sexual relationship
endures in spite of her marriage, their other lovers and their lover's
lovers. As the years go by, a flow chart might help out the viewer trying
remember who's who.
As you might surmise, this film is not for everyone. There are some who will dismiss the whole group as "immoral" or as an effete corps of impudent snobs, but we won't be that narrow- minded and judgemental, will we? If you allow yourself into 'Carrington's' world I think you'll find it rewarding. It's full of good actors but I believe its success is largely due to director Christopher Hampton's screenplay. It's a full two hour movie without the benefit of car chases, explosions or kickboxing matches, so it's a big plus to have something nice to look at for all that time. We can thank cinematographer Denis Lenoir and production designer Caroline Ames for that.
A movie that asks the question, how did it ever get made? Absolutely
not a chance that it was made for profit. Once I stopped asking the
question, I could enjoy the superior cinematic quality of all the
elements that elevate a film to a work of art. I suppose it must have
been exhibited in a theater, somewhere, though getting it booked must
have been quite an accomplishment for its backers. I caught it on cable
which allowed me to sip on a brandy while the film took its time
unfolding in a style that I would describe as a splendidly animated
coffee table book.
I am moved to comment on Carrington to express my gratitude to its makers.
Viewer, do not believe others when they say this is a Merchant and Ivory
knockoff. It has many of the same elements, to be sure, but M-I serves up
confections, and here is something more interesting.
Imagine an intelligent screenwriter's first choice: whose story is this and what form must the telling take as a result? This is Carrington's story. She was an introspective painter who never exhibited -- thus we have a meditative, rather longish development. But you'll note that this is not just to revel in any lushness. What's done here is that each scene is a sequence of many small shots, each exquisitely framed, but shown less long than one can absorb. This is how Carrington would see the narrative, and it is a rather clever approach to centering it in her eye, if you can center down and read the pictures.
You also see her bias in many of the decisions related to the mechanics of the plot: her appearance changes little in 17 years; her affairs are always seen, but those of Lytton are not; and we are denied fascinating details (her father's death, the famous gatherings of the intelligently eccentric Bloomsbury Group) that she would have considered unimportant.
As the presentation is visual, Emma Thompson must dramatize physically, and so she does. Some of her character's most awkward moments have Emma in almost caricatured postures, much as one imagines one's self in retrospect as clumsy.
The test of a film is whether it transports you to an unfamiliar place and embeds a strange experience that sticks. The emotional and sexual situation here is bizarre and unfamiliar, but if you just take it as a pretty, competent film with a story, it won't work. If you take is as a film about her world, from her world, there's an additional rewarding dimension.
But go relaxed. The theme here is the existential angst between the fact you can passionately love someone and know that you will NEVER be able to provide some key factor they need, something basic in their life. An unsettling reminder.
When love comes, it doesn't always come in a form that allows its fullfillment, as Dora Carrington knows. Her lifelong love of Lytton, a man for whom romantic love only knows a male face, is both a source of great anguish and great joy. Emma Thompson portrays Dora with great sensitivity, depicting her other loves and lovers as genuine yet never enough to supplant her love of Lytton. In our society the love of "one and only" can be an oppressive ideal that few can attain, and Hollywood is its loudest proponent. This movie allows for a well thought out exploration on of the many other faces of true love. Superb acting, direction, editing, costuming, the works. I highly recommend it.
One thing regarding Christopher Hampton's film "Carrington" that bears
noting for potential viewers is that previous knowledge is helpful. If
you don't have any sort of idea who Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey
are, or the avant-garde world in which they moved, then the movie will
seem very obscure and disjointed.
Regarding the movie, it is odd and melancholic, but richly intelligent and rewarding, particularly with repeated viewings.The cinematography is attractive without being showy. Michael Nyman's score is haunting and uniquely beautiful.And the casting is perfect, particularly Jonathan Pryce as the ironic Bloomsbury butterfly Strachey, and Emma Thompson as the strangely alluring Carrington, who's heart beats fiercely with love for him, despite the fact that neither of them will ever be able to do anything about it.
My personal favorite scene is when they are sitting under the tree, and Carrington tells Lytton how she feels, and he understands.They are both so peaceful and content.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had no previous knowledge of Dora Carrington before I found this
film. I had learned about the Bloomsbury artists so many years ago I
had forgotten their place in history. To say that this story is odd is
a gentle understatement. Carrington was someone you would more likely
place in the hippie era of the 1960's rather than England of pre World
War One. On the other hand, the bohemian artists in Europe had the
luxury of acting out some pretty odd relationships; they had fine
examples of large living in the previous century - think Lord Byron and
a bit later Oscar Wilde and you'll understand.
I ended up so smitten by this film that I bought a bio on Carrington and it was worth the effort because the film leaves out so much of what made up her psyche. I'd even argue that the film as good as it is can be confusing because we don't know why she is the woman she is. Carrington carried two distinct imbalanced relationships up to the moment she met Lytton Strachey. She loathed and hated her mother and adored and clung to her father. Electra complex, anyone? Leaving Freud aside (and there is a deep irony in this comment: Lytton's brother became a well known Freudian analyst) Carrington was unprepared for the rush of emotions that Strachey caused in her heart. As an openly gay, brilliant intellectual and important writer, he would have been the last on her list of attractive men. But, love deals odd darts to the heart. After nearly clipping his beard off in his sleep as a planned retribution to his impulsive kiss, she paused, stared down at his placid face and fell madly and deeply in "love". The rest of the movie completes their extremely odd relationship. The important fact is that she never lost any of the intense love for this gentle spirit. She accepted that Lyton was more interested in men, shared lovers with him, opened her heart to anything except separation from him. We can argue that she had transferred her father love to Strachey but of course it becomes a label that in the end will not satisfy the mystery of her heart.
There is much to be said about this film. Emma Thompson completely embodied Carrington as totally as an actor can. Aside her was Jonathan Pryce who portrayed Strachey so perfectly that it left those who knew Strachey amazed. The ambiance and rapport between the main actors kept the passion of their evolving love always front and center. We get glimpses of Carrington's torment over Strachey but we never really know the ultimate motivations. What is so overwhelming about this film is that when Lyton finally succumbs the heart break to Carrington was too much for her to carry. It removed her will to live without him to love. I have rarely been so moved by a love affair like this. The music by Michael Nyman is so perfectly evocative of the waves of Carrington's love that the soundtrack seems completely meshed with the story. In the end, watching Carrington make her final choice we are as devastated as she was at her loss of Strachey. As a love story it is intense, very complicated and twisted, as a relationship between man and woman it is as odd as they come. In the end we decide that love at this level is a connection of heart and emotion and commitment that is blind to shape and form and opinions of others. It is a link that is mysterious but tangible. One can only weep in acknowledgment that if we had loved someone that deeply we too would have wanted the escape she chose. An astoundingly profound meditation on love. Phenomenal supporting actors. Superb but heart rending.
"Carrington" has Christopher Hampton's great stamp on it and the fine
performances of Emma Thompson (as the lead, artist Dora Carrington), and
Jonathan Pryce (hilarious as Lytton Strachey). Also in the cast are Sam
West, Jeremy Northam, Steven Waddington and Rufus Sewell, all entangled in
some way with Carrington and all the time the love of her life is the one
man she can't fully have.
Her story is a tragic one and extremely moving, with a lot of twists and turns along the way. Lots of sections are explicit while others are brilliantly understated, particular concerning Carrington and Strachey together. Light relief is provided with scenes including the conscientious objector hearing. We also get an insight into what makes Carrington tick as an artist, what inspires her and makes her grow.
My favourite scene of all though is Carrington, alone in a garden watching all the lovers in the house switching off the lights in their rooms until she sits in darkness.
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