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Ralph Fiennes
Julianne Moore
Stephen Rea
Heather-Jay Jones
James Bolam
Ian Hart
Sam Bould
Cyril Shaps
Jason Isaacs

Neil Jordan



The Novel

Time: 102 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance/War

Academy Awards nominations for Best Actress (Moore) and Best Cinematography.

Not since THE ENGLISH PATIENT has a romance been released that ends as tragically and bitterly as this film. Fiennes and Moore play the doomed lovers, whose tentative grasp on happiness turns sour after a freak accident, ruining both their lives. Graham Greene's epic tale liberally mixes love, deception and religion in a story that is so despairing it's at times difficult to sit through. The film takes place just before, during and after World War II in London. Partly told in flashback, the plot centers on the jealousy of two men over the secret wanderings of Sarah – the wife of one and ex-lover of the other. Moore plays the object of their desire, a woman in a sexually dead marriage to a mopey government official (Rea), who apparently finds the man of her dreams in Maurice (Fiennes), a young writer, who's only slightly less morose than her husband. In any case, they begin a passionate affair during the war that leaves both of them feeling fulfilled and happy despite the horrors and deprivation of the world around them. All seems to be going well for the couple until a stray bomb shatters their relationship into a miasma of betrayal and regret.

A chance encounter with Henry a few years later, reawakens Maurice's anger and jealousy. Believing the only reason Sarah would have left him was to be with another man, he agrees to hire a private detective to help Henry (and himself) discover who Sarah's been mysteriously meeting. What they find is that the man she's been seeing is servicing her spiritual needs, not her physical ones. A promise to God made in the heat of the moment – when she thought Maurice was killed by the bomb – placed Sarah on a course of righteousness neither man can understand. She believes God answered her pray to let Maurice live and that she must keep up her end of the bargain, which was to break off the affair, despite the pain and loneliness it brings. Maurice can't understand her newfound faith and begs her to reconsider. His life means nothing without her. Unfortunately for all of them, God takes the choice out of their hands.

"I had tempted fate, and fate had accepted."

The restrained performances by the lead trio keep this film from stumbling into overwrought melodrama; however, the subtlety leaves the story lacking in passion, a real problem for a desperate romance. This wouldn't be such a problem if the connection between the lovers wasn't so underdeveloped. It goes without saying that wartime encourages such liaisons, giving those living on the edge something to look forward to and cherish. A soft place to fall, so to speak. Their liaison is understandable up to a point, it's just too bad the story never makes you truly believe it's something they can't live without. Moore is the only bright spot – literally and figuratively – in this dank and somber tale. She makes you believe her character's conversion is honest and heartfelt, which the film needs in order to hold the story together. Both men are such cold fish it's a wonder she bothered with either of them. Fiennes at least gets to rail at God, which allows him to explore an emotion other than jealousy. It's certainly not his most winning performance, yet the depth of his love does grip the heart.

The art direction and cinematography contribute greatly to the success of this film, creating a London so cold, lonely and forbidding, one can't blame the characters for taking solace in any warm place they can find. It's no wonder the men are drawn to Moore, her costumes bring the only color into this drab, grey world. As a recovering Catholic, I expected the religious aspects of this film to be overbearing, but Jordan finds an honest and intriguing way to explore the nature of faith and the powerful sway it holds over those who believe. Unless you're a huge fan of tragic love stories, Moore or Fiennes, I can't really recommend this film. While I liked the performances, the backdrop and the exploration of deeper life issues, the whole is unequivocally less than it's parts. I applaud all concerned in their efforts to create a love story that's not all about sex and is intelligently written, but the outcome here is just too emotionally draining for enjoyment.

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