Tuesday 14 October 2014

Review: Effie Gray

World of Blackout Film Review

Effie Gray Poster

Effie Gray
Cert: 12A / 108 mins / Dir. Richard Laxton
WoB Rating: 4/7

It's happened again. The sales attendant looked me square in the eye and asked "…are you sure?". "Oh, of course," I replied, "I've brought my ladyfriend - at her request, no less - to see the British-made Victorian costume drama Effie Gray. I like 'films' as well as movies, why would this be a problem?". The young man looked at me, one eyebrow slowly raising in gentle accusation. "You do remember Jane Eyre, don't you, sir? We all do…". "Yeah, yeah, Jane Eyre was an anomaly, though. No-one could be expected to like that, even fans of Jane Eyre. And remember Great Expectations? I enjoyed that, didn't I?". I had won. "I was only pointing out that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on in Screen 1, that's all.". "Yeah, well enough of your cheek, sonny, take my money and give me my tickets. Besides which, I've seen TMNT and have no desire to repeat the process."

So anyway, Effie Gray follows the story of its titular heroine's troubled marriage to Victorian art critic John Ruskin, resulting in Effie procuring a marital annulment and creating a massive scandal at the time. Actually, the film doesn't cover the scandal, just the events leading up to it. And it doesn't cover the courtship, whereby an intelligent, attractive young woman somehow becomes infatuated with a sociopath harbouring mummy-issues who is, at best, 'a bit odd'. So really, the film just covers the turbulent bit in the middle. Except it's not really that turbulent. Not so much stormy, more of a persistent drizzle.

I have it on very good authority (Mrs Blackout's, no less), that the relationship between the two central characters was a lot more strained than Emma Thompson's screenplay would have its audience believe. The psychological abuse that Gray suffered at the hands of her tormentor seems to be mostly reduced to a few crossed words and funny looks, plus a scattering of huffy silences once Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais arrives on the scene to woo Effie with his beard and wide array of facial expressions. Like many costume dramas set in the Victorian era, the film restrains itself from placing 21st century attitudes onto its characters. Sadly, this seems to rob them of their bond with a 21st century audience. I didn't dislike the film, but I wanted to engage with it more.

Mrs Blackout was less impressed than I.

A strangely muted affair, played with conviction but unwilling or unable to portray the drive and passion of its characters, or of the Pre-Raphaelite era they were ushering in. Viewers familiar with the art history of the period will raise an eyebrow at how delicately the themes are handled; viewers without that grounding will wonder when the story's really going to kick in.

A midnight storm painted in pastel watercolours, Effie Gray holds the attention, but it's no masterpiece.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Yes and no. The trailer left me none the wiser, but to be fair the film largely did that as well.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
Afraid not.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
I have it on good authority that it doesn't.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
You'll be lucky to catch this at the flicks, but it's perfect Sunday night viewing on DVD.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Will I watch it again?
Not very likely, if I'm being honest.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
Is it a coincidence that Emma Thompson has written herself the part of the only person in the film who isn't at least a partial fuck-up?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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