In 1934, Helena Bonham Carter comes to live with sister Olivia Williams and her husband,Paul Bettany. Bonham Carter is the bad girl, always rebellious, while Wiliams is very proper andsomething of a cold fish. Williams wants to fix her sister up with a man, but she clearly didn’tcount on that man being her husband. Bettany and Bonham Carter begin a furtive affair, whichtakes a sudden turn when she becomes pregnant. Flash forward to 1946. Bettany appears to havebeen killed i… the war. The sisters meet once again. Now Williams appears bowed down by grief,and Bonham Carter seems to be flourishing by contrast. Then we leap back again ten years to seehow the later stage came about.
The back-and-forthing with time is an interesting storytelling tactic. In the commentary,director Thaddeus O’Sullivan and writer Lucinda Coxon explain that the idea was to show usearly on that the actions of the lovers has consequences. The other goal was to trouble our easysympathies, and in this, the film is successful. Williams is so off-putting in the early goings thatour sympathy does tend to gravitate to Bonham Carter, but the later agony undermines thatinstinct. Bettany shines as he hasn’t really had the chance to since Gangster No. 1. Thenarrative is a bit too oblique and suffused with Merchant-Ivory style Good Taste, and some of thetime jumps are confusing. A solid drama, all the same.
Nice music, and the dialogue is crisp and undistorted, but the 5.1 track is a bit underused.There are some nice moments with fireworks going off in front and rear, and good surround rainduring Williams’ nightmare, but for the most part, there is very little by way of environmentaleffects.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.78:1 from the looks of things) has some softeningaround the edges. Its main problem, however, is a pulsing in an out of focus. This pulse is notas bad as I’ve seen on some discs, but it is just noticeable enough to be a bit distracting. Thecolours are very warm, with excellent contrasts and blacks, and there is no edge enhancement tospeak of. The grain is minor, but not completely eliminated.
O’Sullivan and Coxon’s commentary is very behind-the-scenes in its detailing of how andwhy things came to be. O’Sullivan does, however, feel it sometimes to describe what ismanifestly happening before our very eyes. There is one deleted scene, introduced by Coxon,and about 10 minutes of interviews with the cast and director (a mini-featurette, if you will).There is also the theatrical trailer. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
A solid period piece, but not an outstanding one. Think of it as a very good episode ofMasterpiece Theater. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scene
- Cast and Director Interviews
- Theatrical Trailer