30 November 2010 | mjneu59
challenging Anglo-Irish period piece
A family of British aristocrats living in County Cork finds their comfortable lifestyle threatened by the Irish rebellions of the 1920s, when the headstrong older daughter develops a fatal attraction for a notorious local patriot (i.e. terrorist) with a price on his head.
This won't be the last film to dissect the bloodlust lurking just beneath the glacial politeness of upper-crust British manners, but the perceptive screenplay (adapted from a novel by Elizabeth Bowen) shows an unbiased lack of sympathy for either side of the conflict. Deborah Warner makes an easy transition from a theater background for her feature film debut, directing a first-rate cast (including Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, and Fiona Shaw) with impressive, understated visual flair and an eye for the telling detail. The specific Anglo-Irish perspective could make the film a tough sell to American moviegoers unschooled in the social/political snake pit of Emerald Isle antipathy (here placed into an intriguing, almost tribal context), which may explain why the promotional trailers make it look like any other romantic melodrama in funny period dress. It's a misrepresentation likely to alienate the film's target audience, but discerning viewers should find plenty here to provoke their thoughts.