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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.
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.
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.
I am moved to comment on Carrington to express my gratitude to its makers.
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.
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.
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.
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 is a buried treasure that depicts the relationship between painter Dora Carrington and author Lytton Strachey in WWI England, a beautiful existence of cottages and countryside. Even if platonic because of Strachey's homosexuality, the relationship was all the same a profound and complex one. When Carrington did form a more physically intimate relationship with a soldier, Strachey made do accepting him as a friend, while the soldier stayed rather edgy, not so much with Strachey's sexual orientation as with the reality that he was a conscientious objector. Yes, there is inescapable trouble linked to the bond between Carrington and Strachey. Yes, there is more pain and guilt than there are good times. But what if they had buckled to social expectations, convention, tradition? What if they didn't follow their hearts? By the end of the film, one realizes that the true heartbreak is caused by how much they wound up guarding their feelings in spite of following them, and in spite of the nature of their incompatible sexualities.
You could never find a better fit to play Dora Carrington. Emma Thompson is perfectly cast, wise and set aside and completely natural. She is natural in the way she looks and natural in the way she carries herself. When we first see her, when Strachey is first introduced to her, we misinterpret the first impression of her, a quiet, reticent tomboy. Carrington, like Thompson, is beautiful but maintains selfhood over everything else. Thompson understands that that is why Carrington refuses her body to her lover early in the film. She never quite seems to grow comfortable with sex no matter her progression in that inevitable field of her life. She in some sense is like a child in spite of her intellectual prowess and her disregard for recognition of her work as a painter. Her impatience for complicated situations causes her to ride roughshod over the feelings of those to whom she finds herself to be closest, and when she finds that in her penchant for the immediate, she learns the harsh truth that she has not been embracing her greatest moments.
Her primordial flaws come at the expense of Strachey, played by Jonathan Pryce, who seems to love the breezy theatricality of the role, a clear eccentric from his first moment, who gives the impression of being completely aloof and prissily high-maintenance. He seems not to take anything seriously, even his unwavering position as neutral in the issue of the war. He is one of those odd and nonchalantly insubordinate older men that make spectators laugh, but part of him quietly enjoys being a source of entertainment. Part of him is terribly troubled by his only minimal success as a writer. Somewhat like Carrington, he still seeks sometime companions more conducive to his most rudimentary needs, and in one instance, we see him laid bare, very unlike his cold and elitist temperament. In this moment, he and Carrington realize that no matter how often they fluctuate on each other's terms, they are each other's shoulders to cry on, and as they have felt as awkward as they've ever let themselves become around anyone else, they feel, whether consciously or not, that they can be completely themselves in each other's company.
Their leisurely lifestyle becomes intensely infectious, as is the atmosphere, which is not only wonderful because of the English countryside but because there is an indescribable feel to the contrast of the cinematography, which is not grainy nor is it clear and bright. Maybe it pertains to the same disregard for orthodoxy as Carrington and Strachey. Maybe it is that it doesn't conform to the expectation that historical England be depicted with lushness, nor does it conform to the precondition that a story full of sorrow be depicted with gloom.
Michael Nyman's moving and wonderful music score has a similar effect as Howard Shore's music in a David Cronenberg film, a suitably blending pulse of the hearts and lives of the story yet haunting and emotional. Had the film gone without Nyman's music, it might not have had the moving power behind its unaffectedly real and wise, not to mention true, story, and we might not have loved its two central characters. And maybe we love them for similar reasons why they love each other.
It must be very difficult for most people to understand the love relationship between these two people. Only those who have encountered or experienced a similar love could understand it.
I found this film very rewarding. My main criticism is the choppy editing which abruptly flits from one scene or even one location to the next. The acting of Emma Thomson and Jonathan Pryce is quite good. Pryce's role particularly is a departure from his usual work. I had trouble recognizing him because of the makeup.
The film has tweaked my interest in pursuing more of this real-life story.
Carrington experiences the best sex of her life with this man, but it again ... much like the others ... comes to a complete halt when he tells her that he is not really interested in her sexually. Odd, isn't how this films started with Carrington and her first boyfriend. We have come full circle.
If we were to look at this film in a symmetrical angle, we would notice a circle outside with Lytton in the direct center of this circle. The circle would represent Carrington's life. All around the circle would be the men that she has been with, while Lytton would be her stability point. All throughout her encounters with other men she always is able to find comfort with her center figure ... Lytton. If you watch this film closely, you will notice that there is only one point in the movie where Carrington goes outside the circle. It is when she is having a party at her house. Carrington goes outside only to sit down on a stump that happens to be facing the house. She is able to see all the windows in the house, and all of her past lovers with their new ones. Even Lytton with his new boyfriend.
This is the moment that we see Carrington thinking about her life. Seeing what she has been a part of, and watching it somewhat crumble down. This is her only moment outside of the circle that she has built. Lytton is the foundation to this circle, and it is obvious that without Lytton everything around Carrington must crumble as well.
That my friends, is how you build a love story.
Grade: *** out of *****
The film has faults - it is sometimes too episodic and the motivations of some characters are unclear. However, it is a different look at the love between a man and a woman - a love that was denied sexual expression.
Rather than objecting to the "promiscuity" of the main characters, I was touched by the emotional honesty that existed between them - whether they were having sex or not.
The artistic era in England, after the First World War, was a fascinating time. We might have something to learn about emotional honesty from those in this story.
Dora Carrington was a very interesting woman and and Emma Thompson portrayed her unending love for the gay Strachey in the best work I have seen from her.
So, do give this film a chance, and try to approach it with that elusive (for some) open mind.
The plot of the film is quirky and orignal, and the cast of supporting actors is good too. Jeremy Northam and Steven Waddington are extroadinary as Dora's lovers. I highly recommend this film
This film is fantastically acted and is absolutely enthralling. But the anal sex scene was a little too much for me to handle without crying.
I do recommend it, however, because of the superbness of it. It's just amazing. However, not for the faint of heart.
Maybe I just like Emma Thompson too much.