10 April 2004 | petershelleyau
That the director of this feature has a background in documentaries is not surprising given that the treatment is character rather than plot driven, however as a piece of drama it fails.
The main problem is that nothing really happens, or rather Anna Benson Gyles and screenwriter David Young allow any potential action to wither away. The set-up has potential, with the murder of a Canadian poet and the introduction of Sara Moloney (Miranda Richardson), an American commissioned to write an investigative biography which irks Rose Hindmarch (Brenda Fricker), the local librarian. There is a mystery to unfold, however one that does not involve the poet's killing, which flashbacks suggest, and even a subplot with the lover of the American writer and another involving cancer don't have any impact. If the director is trying to parallel a tone with that of poetry reading, her climax is counter-productive. These are poems we never want to listen to. The film's best part is a flashback over a fish-soiled manuscript, even if accompanied by a voice-over of what we see.
There are narrative contrivances such as having Sara listen to opera as she works (!), and bemoaning the theft of her computer when she has barely made notes. However there is some humor. The dead poet Mary Swann is described as "She was not exactly a yacker". When asked if Sara thinks Mary was a marginal person, she replies "I guess that depends where you think the center is". And there is a laugh over fans distaste as they are served typical food Swann would have eaten at the library's symposium.
Another major problem is with the performances of Richardson and Fricker, who never connect. They compete in acting reflectively, with Fricker the winner since she isn't as verbally mannered as Richardson is here. Richardson displays a physical poetry that Fricker lacks, for example in the way she walks down a hallway with an injured knee, however she cannot put sugar in her tea without over-acting it.
Presumably the figure of Mary Swann is fictional, however her doomed countenance in black and white photographs suggest far more than what is delivered here. No wonder poets think they are never appreciated in their lifetime.