Sunday, June 8, 2014
There are plenty of paintings from that era in which dark skinned people are portrayed but always as servants or slaves—never as ladies. I don't know if it was the writer, Misan Sagay, or someone else whose interest was drawn by the painting, but the story of it was researched leading to this exquisite film.
The quick description of the movie is a cross between TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE and DOWNTON ABBEY (it even has Penelope Wilton from DOWNTON in the role of the maiden aunt). But that might make you think it's a little familiar or predictable, and it's anything but. Maybe a better way to describe it is Jane Austen tackles race (along with her usual topics, class and the status of women back then).
The point is, to my taste at least, it is a spectacular success at bringing an historic period and its manners into a romantic, political and surprisingly original story we haven't heard this way before, as well as a typically brilliant English display of acting chops and costume perfection.
Among the actors that bolster the plot and the period reality with their talent is Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon (who I praised before on this blog for her work in A DANGEROUS METHOD) and Miranda Richardson (known mostly for her HARRY POTTER role and brilliantly shallow in this flick).
The director, who I hadn't heard of, Amma Asante, is, like her star, an English woman who happens also to be "black." She's to be credited for the mostly perfect cast, especially the brilliant casting of her lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (another of those exotic names that's almost as hard to figure out how to pronounce as my ancestors original Irish ones) and the level of performances, especially Mbatha-Raw, who took my breath away with her beauty and talent. In fact the movie is worth seeing just to watch her and her performance.
The only weak spot I could find—and you have to look close to see it, because in the context of the other brilliant acting and terrific dialogue and directing, you most probably won't even notice—is Sam Reid, who like Mbatha-Raw is mostly known in England for his work on TV. He doesn't quite completely live up to the role he's playing, nor the compellingly engaging acting of the rest of the cast. But he's good enough to keep from ruining it and to make his scenes with the amazing Mbatha-Raw pop anyway, she's so good.
Aw, go see it and let me know whether you agree or not that this is a movie well worth the money to watch on a big screen. In fact, I'd say unlike many films today, it's meant to be seen that way, like a real movie.