It was funny when a character in this movie mentioned painter Mr. Turner, because I thought of that movie a few minutes before the scene. Both films deal with talented artists, are shot handsomely, but rather dull affairs.
It’s 1848, and Ephemia Gray introduces the story about a guy who wrote a children’s book for her, and she’s leaving her poor Scottish home to marry the author. He’s wealthy art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise).
The first half of the movie was a lot more interesting since I had spoken to one of my friends that knows everything about art. She had given me the scoop on this juicy love triangle.
On their wedding night, Ruskin seems a bit shocked, and they never consummate the marriage. In fact, they never had sex and just got on each others nerves.
She does go out with a few friends, with the beautifully shot Venetian canals, and we think an affair may blossom. Yet it’s not until she meets Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, who is commissioned by Ruskin to do a portrait, that love starts to happen.
As the movie plays along, you’re intrigued by the location shots – London, Venice, and Scotland. Nice camerawork from Andrew Dunn (The Butler, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). The dreariness works, because that’s what this story is all about. The subtle nature in which Ruskin irritates and neglects Effie is perfectly. Wise’s performance is great.
Dakota Fanning was rather flat in her performance, although a few scenes she pulls off. She can be a naïve young woman in one scene, and than be a tad manipulative and intelligent the next.
Emma Thompson (who wrote the screenplay), doesn’t add much in a small supporting role.
Julie Walters is perfect as the mother-in-law from Hell. You’ll think she’s the worst person on the planet, but I’m guessing for that time period, her attitude isn’t so unusual if the son is marrying somebody from a lower class. And it’s things like this that made me yearn for more. We get the class and gender issues during this time. We have moments wondering if Ruskin is gay, and later, if he’s perhaps a pedophile.
Emma Thompson wrote Sense and Sensibility – one of my favorite movies of the ‘90s. She even got on Oscar for it. That makes this all a bit more disappointing, too. I guess the fact that she doesn’t want to delve into why Ruskin is rejecting his wife, is because that’s mere speculation; although that doesn’t explain why she has a scene in which Effie notices he’s pleasuring himself.
The movie doesn’t liven up all that much once Millais shows up, and when I researched and read more about their real story – I had wished a movie was made about that, instead of this relationship. She became a rather shrewd manager for him, they had 8 kids, and despite her name being sullied a bit – they did live happily ever after.
Director Richard Laxton, mostly known for his TV work, didn’t make the type of woman’s empowerment picture this could’ve been. He didn’t give us a period piece that made us yearn to find out more about these characters. It’s one of those films that men are going to be dragged to by their wives…and it will justify their complaints about going next time.
Unless you’re a hardcore art fan, or just can’t get enough of these movies that take place in the 1800’s…you can probably skip this.
2 stars out of 5.