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  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a great film: serious-minded, gentle and affectionate. It's contained, assured and interested in serious themes - but the genre (however improbable this sounds) is "thriller". The key character is the unseen poet, Mary Swann, whose simple poems of domestic life are being claimed by the literary establishment as the works of a marginalised genius. It is while researching her planned critical study of Swann, that Sarah Maloney (Richardson) comes to Swann's hometown, and finds Rose (Fricker) the librarian and unofficial guardian of Swann's literary "estate" - such as it is. What unfolds is a story about the poetic tradition, stories handed down by word of mouth and a feminist comment on the idea of authorship and ownership. That makes it sound like heavy-going: it isn't. Brenda Fricker's remarkable performance as the shy Rose, whose secret provides the film with its great twist and key thesis is a masterpiece of observation and restraint. Miranda Richardson as the confident, sexually-charged academic "out of towner" gives a much bigger performance that at first seems mannered, but which serves as the ideal foil to Fricker and to the world of Mary Swann. Great stuff, marginally let down by a couple of the male performances.
  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This non-event of a film is about a real-life murdered female poet whose work gets appreciated/discovered only after her husband hacks her into bits. That's a cliché already. (And anyway: screw poetry.) But there aren't too many other clichés because something has to happen in a movie in order for it to even have clichés. It's slow-moving and dull. Miranda Richardson shows her breasts (well, one breast) in an early scene and that remains the only highlight. Why she wasted her time and talent on this forgettable crap, only she knows. The big revelation at the end is that Swann's neighbour wrote parts of the poetry; now how's that for a mind-blowing revelation?! Audiences, hold on to your seats!
  • The film had no plot advancement. So many possibilities, so little follow through. It's hard to believe the story we were ultimately led to was one of the least interesting paths to follow. Why bother with flashbacks when the murder, and the motive for it, were never fully realized? There was no story arc. The film seemed to fragment and dissipate into nothing.

    What was the point of Richardson's stalker? Why did the Ontkean character turn her down sexually citing "bad timing" and then suddenly they fall into each other's arms with no idea of what happened in between? There was a lack of continuity, such as Richardson having sex with the stalker guy she seemed to like at one point, and her nightgown is down to her waist with exposed breast, but in the immediately following shot, her nightgown is fully up, straps and all.

    What was the Fricker tumor thing all about? It seemed to be a temporary distraction, as were most of the scenes.

    However, I did stay awake through this dud of a film and that's saying something.