14 June 2000 | tedg
Look to find the Bloomsbury Passion
Viewer, do not believe others when they say this is a Merchant and Ivory knockoff. It has many of the same elements, to be sure, but M-I serves up confections, and here is something more interesting.
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.