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The White Countess

June 15, 2009

by John Farr

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Shakespeare Wallah

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal) is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe, the Buckingham Players, trying to eke out a living performing for less-than-enthusiastic villagers in postcolonial India. When their caravan breaks down, wealthy playboy Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) steps in to help, and the sparks fly. But Sanju has already been claimed by Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey), a Bollywood actress with no intention of letting him go.

WHY I LOVE IT:

This charming early effort by the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory team, penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a gorgeous elegy to the waning of British influence in India, represented here by the growth of the Bollywood film industry. Based in part on the real-life experiences of Kendal’s own family, Ivory’s film was scored by Satyajit Ray, shot by his lensman Subrata Mitra, and impeccably played by a lively cast. Jaffrey, however, nearly steals the show with an over-the-top performance as the arrogant, jilted starlet.


Howard’s End

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Meticulous adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End depicts transitions in the British class system in the early 20th century. It traces the evolving relationship between Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a restrained and conservative industrialist, and Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) — a poor, yet plucky younger woman.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Few filmmakers capture period detail like James Ivory. Here, Hopkins is the personification of upper-class British reserve, while Emma Thompson is radiant in an Oscar-winning performance. Vanessa Redgrave portrays Hopkins’ dying wife with poignancy, and Helena Bonham Carter is suitably fiery as Thompson’s modern sister. Literate, human drama of the first order.


Morgan!: A Suitable Case For Treatment

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Morgan Delt (David Warner), a mentally unbalanced young artist obsessed with apes, really goes off the deep end when his beautiful, only slightly daffy spouse, Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), asks for a divorce. Determined to have her back, Morgan resorts to bizarre and desperate measures to keep her from marrying priggish art dealer Charles (Robert Stephens).

WHY I LOVE IT:

Redgrave made her film debut in this wildly inventive black comedy by Czech director Reisz. Her magnetic performance as Leonie-continually torn between her more conventional side and the unhinged part of her nature – netted her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. “Morgan!”‘s exuberant pacing and anarchic spirit make it one of the swinging sixties’ most delightfully loony cult films. Also, Warner is terrific in the lead.


Georgy Girl

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Georgina, known as Georgy (an Oscar-nominated Lynn Redgrave), is an ugly duckling at loose ends. Her father is a manservant whose married, middle-aged employer (James Mason) wants her as his mistress. Meanwhile, her gorgeous roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) treats her carelessly, but Georgy basks in her glamour. Finally, there’s Jos (Alan Bates), Meredith’s sometime boyfriend, who beds the beauty but seems to prefer Georgy’s company. Somehow, this plump, sweet girl must make sense of her disordered life and figure out where she belongs.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Distinctive black comedy has Georgy, a free spirit with a self-image problem, surrounded by somewhat pathetic, bizarre characters: Meredith’s beauty can’t conceal the soul of a witch; Jos is a loveable, overgrown child; and Mason’s character seems like a rather lonely, leering fellow, though endowed with real affection for Georgy. Still, the film’s ambiguity is intended- and it’s a large part of its charm. A fascinating, highly original ride, with terrific performances and a vivid sense of London in the swinging sixties. Catchy title tune by The Seekers.


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