Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4
Old saying about truth being stranger than fiction was often
been proven by remarkable films being based on true stories.
One of such examples is a film that turned out to be one of
the most underrated tear-jerking melodramas of its time.
This film was based on the unusual events in the life of one
of the most influential thinkers of 20th Century. Those
events were turned into stage play SHADOWLANDS by William
Nicholson and later adapted into BBC TV film in 1985
(starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom). Eight years later,
Richard Attenborrough, British director specialised for
biographical films, made feature film version.
The protagonist of the film is C.S. "Jack" Lewis (played by
Anthony Hopkins), British writer who became famous because
of his science fiction novels, children's books as well as
his very passionate defence of Christianity. Lewis' personal
lifestyle, however, is in total contrast with his global
fame - he lives a quiet, ascetic and uneventful life of a
Oxford professor, shares room with his equally ascetic
brother Warnie (played by Debra Winger) and spends all free
time in intellectual discussion. In 1952 his life is going
to change when he receives a letter by Joy Gresham (played
by Debra Winger), Jewish American poetess who claims to be a
great fan of his work and wants to meet him personally.
Soon, Joy comes to England bringing her young son Douglas
(played by Joseph Mazzelo) and when meeting between "Jack"
and Joy occurs, British professor is both shocked and
attracted by Joy's openness and directness. They strike up a
friendship and that relationship gradually turns into deep
platonic love. Because of that love, "Jack" would agree to
marry her in order to help her evade deportation from
Britain. Their love, as well as "Jack"'s beliefs would soon
be put to the test by Joy's illness.
Unlike previous Attenborrough's films that dealt with Great
Men of History like Churchill, Gandhi or Chaplin this
reconstruction of Lewis-Gresham love affair deliberately
avoids visual spectacle. Instead, Attenborrough, quite aware
of anything but spectacular setting, leaves most of the work
to the actors. Casting is, naturally, perfect. Anthony
Hopkins is excellent as quiet, reserved British intellectual
who would discover love in the autumn of his life. But the
best surprise comes in the form of Debra Winger, one of the
most underrated actresses of past few decades. Her manages
to show Joy Gresham as a woman who is physically attractive,
but whose main tool of seduction comes in the sharpness of
her mind. Unfortunately, both of those great actors are
unable to leave truly superb impression simply because their
roles in same way resemble their past achievements. Hopkins
looks too much like a reserved, "stiff-upper-lip" British
butler from REMAINS OF THE DAY. Winger, on the other hand in
the last segment of the film brings back memories of her
role in TERMS IN ENDEARMENT made ten years earlier. Their
interaction is, however, great, and the rest of the cast is
splendid, especially Hardwicke, John Wood and Peter Firth.
Young Joseph Mazzelo as the only other American among almost
exclusively British cast is also very good. George Fenton
also contributes to film's elegiac atmosphere with his
melancholic musical score. In the end, SHADOWLANDS should
also be praised because this film, unlike most of other
melodramas, adds intellectual and philosophical dimension to
the romance. As a film that employs our brain as well as our
emotion, SHADOWLANDS is one of the best British films made
in last few years.
Copyright © 2000 Dragan Antulov