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When the father of privileged Rosina da Silva violently dies, she decides to pass herself off as a gentile and finds employment with a family in faraway Scotland. Soon she and the family father, Charles, start a passionate secret affair. Written by
THE GOVERNESS is a moody period piece, the meandering story of a Jewish woman who, upon the death of her father, sets out to 1830's Scotland, posing as a Gentile to get work to support her family in London.
Rosina - or Mary, as she calls herself in a none too subtle piece of symbolic writing - is a rudderless child, a socialite with dreams of being an actress. She strikes up an alliance with her employer, and by accident solves a crucial problem in his research with photography. Giddy with success, they begin a halting and uncomfortable affair while the eldest son of her paramour falls hopelessly (and inexplicably) in love with her.
And like a child, she fails to understand the consequences of her actions - in the end, betraying those she deceived in order to make a life for herself.
Many claim this is something of a feminist manifesto, but I disagree. Whether intended or not, this film only resonates with me if I think of it as a cautionary tale. In the end, Rosina's greatest disappointment is the truth - that she lied, happened upon a way to help a man she wanted to be both her father and her lover, and in the end contributed nothing but destruction. As such, the end of the film gives me the impression that nothing she did, no one she used, made her happy - and that is exactly as it should be.
Did I need a movie this long and langorous to teach me this lesson? Not at all. On the contrary, had it not been for excellent cinematography, unique score and my hope that she'd get her come-uppance, I wouldn't have stuck with it to the end of the film.
Fans of Minnie Driver will likely be disappointed by her uneven performance but may wish to see it anyway; I doubt young female fans of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers will be able to stay awake for the payoff they expect, and I can't help thinking this holds too little cultural detail to be of interest, even to photography buffs. The 3 points I award the film are solely for its visual style and score. On the strength of their other work, I assume the actors' performances are so disappointing because of a poor script and worse directing, but they are, in the end, unremarkable.
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