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Jennifer Jason Leigh,
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In 1920s Ireland, an elderly couple reside over a tired country estate. Living with them are their high-spirited niece, their Oxford student nephew, and married house guests, who are trying to cover up that they are presently homeless. The niece enjoys romantic frolics with a soldier and a hidden guerrilla fighter. All of the principals are thrown into turmoil when one more guest arrives with considerable wit and unwanted advice.Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Superbly atmospheric tale of the end of an era in 1920s Ireland
This is the only feature film directed by the well-known London theatre director, Deborah Warner. It is a pity she has not made more. She has a wonderful feeling for mood and atmosphere, and this film is soaked in it. The story is from a novel by Elizabeth Bowen and concerns the landed gentry known as Anglo-Irish who once inhabited grand mansions in southern Ireland (Eire) until the Troubles, when most of the mansions were burnt down (a great loss to architecture) by the 'republicans'. The film centres upon the great house and grounds of the Naylor family, and does not deal with the larger picture in Ireland. The remarkable Keeley Hawes starred in this film just before appearing in WIVES AND DAUGHTERS (1999, see my review), and as she began acting on television at the age of 13, she was already a trooper by this time, aged 23. There is no doubt that Hawes has always been, and continues to be a most impressive actress, as she proves once again here. In the story, the beautiful and skittish young Hawes has known since childhood a sinister young man who has now become an IRA killer, and she helps to conceal him in a local ruin, bringing him food and comfort. She does this despite knowing that he has just killed someone, fascinated by the evil of him and feeling no compunction because she likes the thrill and finds him sensually exciting. She lives with her aunt and uncle. The uncle is played with his usual expansive flair and mellifluous voice by Michael Gambon, while the aunt is played by Maggie Smith, who adds her lustre as always. An unexpected intrusion into the story is a visiting woman played by Jane Birkin, who adds a mysterious presence. An especially fine performance is given by Fiona Shaw, who effortlessly dominates scenes when she is in them. As Ireland and the characters of the story hurtle towards tragedy, we see a true 'end of an era', filmed on location in one beautiful rambling old house which seems to have avoided destruction. As visions of lost worlds go, this is a fine one, and the story is absorbing and beautifully filmed. The costumes were by John Bright personally, not just by his firm Cosprop. I remember him well from when he was just beginning, way back when, in yet another lost era called the sixties. The music is by Zbigniew Preisner, and is therefore highly superior, as is his wont. The film had no less than eleven producers, so many that they outnumber the main players in the cast. One is reminded of the 'Irish joke' which asks how many Irishmen it takes to change a light bulb. Never mind, wars can still be won when there are too many generals, as long as there is a good director on hand. This film deserves much more attention than it has had, and is a truly wonderful evocation of a time and place now lost in history.
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