4 October 2004 | jackie-107
A dusty handful
At the end of this film, one wants to wash one's hands of the unmitigated cruelty pervading the atmosphere. The deliberate pace of the thirties setting (beautifully portrayed using the right houses, and suitable sets and costumes) ensures that every nuance of behaviour is clearly understood by the audience, and this is the great strength of the film. As I haven't read the book, but believe this is a faithful adaptation, I can commend both Charles Sturridge and the superb actors for translating what must be a difficult, but brilliant, novel by Evelyn Waugh, not only into an impressive film, but one that conveys thirties morals and social privilege in a way that rings true for today's 21st century attitudes.
I think this is the best performance I have ever seen by James Wilby. Cuckolded by his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas in a fantastic debut performance), suffering from the death of his only son, he turns from a kind and gentle husband to one who wreaks revenge on his wife by cutting off all financial support. His agony over his son is exactly restrained in the manner of the period, his embarrassment over setting up the grounds for divorce by being caught in flagrante, his bewilderment when one would think he should be released from torment but is trapped by a vindictive eccentric (Alec Guinness, as usual, quite amazing) in the middle of the jungle, after nearly dying of fever, is a tour de force. This is his film, but Kristin Scott-Thomas (who was the original reason I watched this film in the first place), is simply delightful as the spoil, bored wife who can't resist Rupert Graves's boyish charm and dilettante lifestyle. No wonder Robert Altman chose her for Gosford Park; she is made for these roles. Her character's brittle insouciance, total selfishness and insensitivity, her lack of concern for her husband and son while she pursues alleviation from boredom with Rupert Graves, is reminiscent of Daisy Buchanan's behaviour in The Great Gatsby. Kristin Scott-Thomas shows a sophistication and acting aplomb which is breathtaking.
Rupert Graves is convincing as the shallow man-about-town sponging off others but seducing charming to the ladies; Judi Dench gives a lovely cameo as his bourgeois mother; Cathryn Harrison is good as Millie, who is supposed to provide the evidence for the divorce; and Alec Guinness in one of his final roles, is chillingly menacing.
I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good story well told, excellent acting, and a period setting.