An impoverished woman who has been forced to choose between a privileged life with her wealthy aunt and her journalist lover, befriends an American heiress. When she discovers the heiress is attracted to her own lover and is dying, she sees a chance to have both the privileged life she cannot give up and the lover she cannot live without.
Helena Bonham Carter,
In the 1930s Ricky Masters, an English businessman, marries Madeleine, a fine match socially, but the cultured aesthete is more and more attracted to her sister Dinah, a 'Bohemian' painter, and as they spend time together their affair becomes physical, even all the way; yet when she gets pregnant they decide to leave his marriage intact. He raises his son with Madeleine, who tells him only in 1946 that she knew after he had a car accident during a 'business trip' to southern France that caused Dinah to loose her unborn daughter; now Ricky wants to leave Madeleine, but she refuses a divorce; after a time in hospital he is told Dinah chose to move back to France without him while she's really living in London, still not the last twist of the drama... Written by
This is everything one could possibly want a modern British period film to be: brilliant, sensitive, perfectly made, enthralling, revealing, informative, stimulating, and inspired. Did I forget anything? Oh yes, the wonderful script, cinematography, editing, costumes, sets, props, and just about anything else you care to name. The director is an inspired Irishman named Thaddeus O'Sullivan. And why has he not won an Oscar and is not making Hollywood blockbusters at a hundred million dollars a pop? Well, because he is too talented and real, that is why. The performances are magnificent and sublime. 2002 was a bumper year for Helena Bonham Carter, when she delivered possibly the two finest performances of her distinguished career. Maybe because she had found personal fulfillment with Tim Burton the year before, it was in 2002 that she made first this film and then 'Till Human Voices Wake Us', in both cases delivering performances which are staggering emotional masterpieces of the acting art. I wish she could stop wasting her time on Harry Potter and get more vehicles like this one. When she was younger, Bonham Carter was not 'sexy'. No man wanted to rip her off the screen and give her a squeeze. She was remote, quizzical, almost 'a funny little thing', despite her amazing talent. By 2002 she was as ripe as a plum, it was all there and oozing out like honey, all that emotion. She may not be a pin-up, but she is what they would call in an old noir movie 'one helluva dame'. (And let's hope she does become Dame Helena one day, for that matter, as she already deserves.) Not to be outdone, her sister is played by Olivia Williams. What a scorching, searing performance that is! She conveys so much on the outside which is concealed on the inside, that one wonders if she had been psychologically involuted specially for this film. What a study this is of sibling rivalries between two sisters! The two actresses seem to have a telepathic communion between them, as when one of them flickers an eyelid, the other winces. If one inhales, the other holds her breath. They were really living this, it was beyond acting. The man caught in the middle between these two lovelies is Paul Bettany, who is perfectly cast, whose performance is perfectly judged, and is delivered with such pervading melancholy and resignation to the Fates that it elevates this tragic love story to Olympian heights. Bettany's versatility was later to be proved when he played Silas in 'The Da Vinci Code', an almost incomprehensible transformation of an actor who here is the very model of a 1930s gent. The costumes are so totally amazing in this film that you want to faint with delight, just looking at them. Where did they get those materials from? How did they do it? This film is a genuine classic, and a model of its kind. It was not until the end credits that I realized I had just seen the screen adaptation of Rosamund Lehmann's novel 'The Echoing Grove', one of her few books I had never got round to reading, though she once told me she believed it to be her best. The film was so emotional and intense that when I saw this it triggered tears, because one of the most traumatic episodes of my entire life was being with Rosamund the day she died in 1990. I arrived to see her, and the woman looking after her left us alone in the house. At first our conversation was normal and lucid, but Rosamund began to go peculiar and fade in and out of consciousness. She started to hold conversations with imaginary people who were appearing to her, especially a young man whom she loved (she was then 89). Rosamund's two great character flaws in her otherwise wonderful personality were female vanity and uncontrollable romantic and sexual passion (as shown in the character played by Helena Bonham Carter). Rosamund was intensely passionate right up to the end, and can literally be said to have been in love on her deathbed, and was straightening her hair and reaching for her lipstick. I felt so desperately uncomfortable being the witness to all these deepest possible intimacies that I have tried for all these years to eradicate it all from my memory, looking at the details as too personal to Rosamund and none of my business. I tried my best to make her comfortable and help her, but after several hours it became clear to me that she was really dying and I had to call for help. She deserved and needed a close friend (as I was only an acquaintance) and of course the doctor. Rosamund was in no pain, but seemed to be being 'called' at last to rejoin her adored daughter Sally, who had died at 24, and whose death caused Rosamund to join the College of Psychic Studies and become a dedicated spiritualist in order to keep in touch with her, which she was convinced she had. And here I was, witness to Rosamund's contact with the spirits right in front of my eyes. I believe it was only four hours after I left the house that Rosamund was dead. The whole subject is so upsetting that I try never to think about it. I really do believe that people should not have curious spectators present at their deaths, however sympathetic they may be, such as myself. They need their friends and loved ones with them. And this did happen in her last moments. I am glad that this film, a perfect testament to Rosamund's amazingly brilliant talent and insights into human emotions, has been rendered on the screen. I do urge all who have a jot of emotion within them to see it, if only to pursue the hidden dynamics of feelings into the innermost recesses of the female heart.
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