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A lonely middle-aged catering manager spends all of his time studying tapes of an eccentric TV chef. Meanwhile, a young woman is making her way from Ireland to find her boy friend, who moved to England to get a job in a lawn-mower factory. On arrival, she makes an early contact with the caterer, who recommends a boarding room to her. Slowly, it is revealed that the caterer has in fact befriended and subsequently abused more than a dozen young women. He, of course, now sets his sights on this woman. Much of the story is told in flashbacks, revealing how each of the characters grew to the point where they now find themselves. However, the drama of the character interaction is more important to director, Atom Egoyan, than the potential horror of the situation. Written by
John Sacksteder <email@example.com>
"Felicia's Journey" is an example of the long-standing tradition of "kitchen sink" realism in the British cinema. Felicia, a teenage girl from a rural part of the Irish Republic, travels to Birmingham to find her boyfriend Johnny, who she believes works in a lawnmower factory. (In fact, Johnny has joined the British Army, but wants to keep this a secret, as the part of Ireland he comes from is a hotbed of Republican sentiment). Felicia (who, it transpires, is pregnant by Johnny) is befriended by a middle-aged man named Joe Hilditch, who works as a factory catering manager. At first Hilditch seems kindly and helpful, but it soon becomes clear that there may be sinister motives behind his interest in Felicia.
In a series of flashbacks we learn of Felicia's life in Ireland and her relationship with her strict, moralistic father, and of Hilditch's own past. We learn that he is the son of Gala, a famous television chef from the 1950s. He is a curiously old-fashioned character; he regularly watches his mother's old black-and-white programmes, lives in her old house, which does not appear to have been redecorated or refurnished for about forty years, and drives an old Morris Minor which he refers to by the antiquated slang term "jalopy". (Even when it was current slang, "jalopy", meaning an old and dilapidated car, was primarily an Americanism, little used in Britain). He appears to have inherited not only his mother's house but also her culinary skills, cooking himself sumptuous meals, which makes one owner why he is not working in a smart restaurant or hotel rather than a factory canteen.
As is common in social-realist cinema, the film paints a bleak picture of the industrial landscapes of Birmingham. Its picture of rural Ireland, however, is equally bleak, about as far from the sentimental "Ballykissangel" image as one can get, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the film was based on a novel by an Irish writer, William Trevor, who also wrote the screenplay. The Irish Republic we see here is a grim, cheerless place, dominated by a sectarian religiosity and bitter memories of who did what to whom in the 1920s, a place where a father can call his daughter a "whore" to her face if he disapproves of her choice of boyfriend.
The brightest thing about this picture was the performance of the nineteen-year-old Elaine Cassidy as the determined if naïve young Felicia; I am surprised not to have heard more of her in the years since 1999. Bob Hoskins is suitably creepy and sinister as Hilditch, whom we first assume to be a sexual predator until we learn that he is in fact something far worse. There are, however, some things about his character that do not ring true. His strong working-class Brummie accent, for example, does not seem right on the lips of a man who lives in a large arts-and-crafts mansion and who, as the son of a wealthy celebrity, would doubtless have enjoyed a privileged education. Like a number of actors with a skill for reproducing various regional accents, Hoskins seems to enjoy showing off that skill even when the accent in question would not be entirely appropriate to his character. (I remember another film where he did a convincing imitation of a New York accent, which would have been fine had his character actually been from New York rather than California).
More importantly- and here the fault lies more with the script than with the actor- we never really understand exactly what has happened to turn Hilditch into a serial killer, even though the idea of narrating part of his backstory was presumably to give us an insight into his psychology. If the implication was supposed to be that his eccentric mother, who used him as a sort of prop on her cookery shows, had left him with a hatred of women, this needed to be spelled out much more clearly. The film seems to have been intended as a psychological study- it is too slow-moving to work as a thriller- but is too mystifying really to work as such. The film has its points of interest, but overall it is one I found rather unsatisfactory. 5/10
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