by Tony Medley
Stella Raphael (Natasha
Richardson) and her husband Dr. Max (Hugh Bonneville) arrive at a mental
hospital with their son, Charlie (Augustus Jeremiah Lewis) in 1959. Max
has just been hired as deputy superintendent of the hospital instead of
long-time staffer Dr. Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen), who is not happy about
it. Stella’s not happy, either, as she appears locked in a passionless
marriage. Susceptible as she is to romantic feelings, she embarks on a
torrid affair with inmate Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas), who has been
committed because he beat his wife to death and then decapitated her.
It’s all downhill from there.
Stark is a brooding, sexual animal who satisfies Stella’s lust for sex.
Richardson gives a good performance as a woman slowly going mad, but there
really isn’t any eroticism in sexual part of the role. Director David
Mackenzie, who has otherwise directed a brilliant film here, must bear
part of the burden because the many scenes of Stella and Edgar having sex
are just like two dogs rutting. There is nothing erotic or sensual about
them. Panting does not sensuality make. Then, again, maybe that’s what
Mackenzie was trying to achieve.
The screenplay is by Patrick
Marber, based on his play. Marber was responsible for Mike Nichols’
“Closer” last year, which was script and character-driven. Marber’s script
is very good. All of the actors are terrific.
Bonneville is particularly
effective as the prim cuckold, whose coldness drives his wife to
unimaginable acts for a mother who clearly loves her son. Stella’s fling
is somewhat understandable the first time, but as she continues, she keeps
getting drawn deeper and deeper into Edgar’s madness. Edgar, for his part,
seems like such a lovable soul. But as the affair continues we begin to
see that Stella might be as mad as Edgar. Richardson and Csokas give
remarkable performances in translating Marber’s intuitive story of these
two troubled people to the screen.McKellen plays the suave, deviously
manipulative Dr. Cleave to a T.
I’ve seen both of the films
made out of Marber’s plays and for which he wrote the screenplays. This
guy is a comer, but whether he can make it in a Hollywood mesmerized by
special effects and comic book stories, a Hollywood that disdains good
writing and good scripts, will have to be seen. Like “Closer,” this is a
July 29, 2005