Trashy Beach Reading -- in Convenient Movie Form

Columbus Alive | September 8, 2005
Arriving late in the summer, director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Patrick Marber’s (Closer) adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel would seem better suited to a release at the height of the season, as it’s the cinematic equivalent of a trashy beach read.

Natasha Richardson is Stella, the vivacious wife of an uptight psychiatrist (Hugh Bonneville) who moves with husband and young son to the grounds of a Yorkshire mental hospital, circa mid-1950s. Earning disapproving looks from her spouse and the other shrinks’ wives with her low-cut dresses and disinterest in joining their social activities, Stella finds her curiosity, and her loins, stirred by Edgar (Marton Csokas), the intensely brooding former sculptor who’s been entrusted with repair work around their house, though he’s in the hospital for killing his wife with a hammer. The work assignment was arranged by his therapist, mirthless puppetmaster Ian McKellen.

A glance, a dance, and a few conspiratorial whispers later, Edgar and Stella are having it off on the greenhouse floor. With each encounter, her lingerie gets more exotic and his demeanor grows more intense and creepy. But Stella’s irretrievably hooked, and her choice of him over home and family leads to events that are meant to be tragic. They’re actually so ridiculously overwrought, they inspire open guffawing.

Mackenzie delved previously into hazardous sexual obsession with Young Adam, a darker, more dour film than this one with its high production values and leanings toward classic movie melodrama. Too bad he deflates much of the fun that could be had with the material by taking things way too seriously. The sexual chemistry between the two leads is undeniable and on display within minutes of the film’s opening, but eventually their story, and all the physical heat between them, evaporates into so much hot air.

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