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Governess

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Governess

Starring: Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Hilary Duff
Rated: R
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Drama, Romance


*Also starring: Florence Hoath, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Harriet Walter, Arlene Cockburn



Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"The Governess" is writer-director Sandra Goldbacher's British answer to Agnes Merlet's Italian-centered "Artemisia." While "Artemisia" deals with the first woman who made a living by painting in Italy, "The Governess" is a (fictionalized) interpretation of Britain's first female career photographer. Wielding vivid but realistic color when Ashley Rowe's camera focuses on an almost subterranean society in London, the lens takes on a cold, harsh conviction when it travels to the remote and uncharitable Scottish island of Arran, a piece of godforsaken territory that must seem alien even to its lifelong residents.

"The Governess," which takes place in the 1840's, is the story of Rosina Da Silva (Minnie Driver), a woman of great English patience who grows up in the Sephardic Jewish community of London, where she enjoys a happy and prosperous life amid a people generally shunned by the Anglican majority. She jokes readily with her conventional sister. In one scene, the two young women ponder the possible taste of semolina, a dessert enjoyed by Gentiles, which they agree looks somewhat like semen. "I'd like to see semen but not as a drink," Rosina announces to her sib, who is shocked even that Rosina had once kissed her boyfriend Benjamin though they are "not married." When Rosina's loving father is murdered, we understand that the estate is in debt. To support her mother and sister, Rosina must find employment, but in an anti-Semitic Britain, what will she do? As she is educated, she takes the job of governess, a prestigious profession which, along with prostitution, was one of the few careers open to women. But to acquire and maintain the position, she must pose as a Gentile (not difficult for one who aspires to the stage), and even then, she must re-locate to a manor on the bleak Scottish island of Skye.

As she puts it, writer-director Goldbacher, herself a product of an Italian Jewish father and a mother from the Isle of Skye, is interested primarily in taking "a character out of one really strongly defined, close-knit, vivid culture into another world, and look at what it would be like for her to fall in love with someone from this other culture, while also denying her own identity." From the looks of things, Rosina--now known by the name Mary Blackchurch--has quite a conflict on her hands. On the one hand she finds it difficult to accept the exotic culture of non-Jews whose remoteness keeps her feeling an outlander. On the other hand, she enjoys her first sexual relationship, one which both destroys her stereotype of Gentiles as a distant people and reconfirms her expectations of them. Striking a feminist attitude, one which projects both strength of character and vulnerability to hurt, Minnie Driver gives an Oscar-caliber performance as a woman who takes a deep interest in the traditionally masculine profession of chemistry as she becomes involved in the experimentation of her employer, Mr. Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson), one of England's first photographers. With no background in the field, the clever Rosina impresses Cavendish by providing the clue he needs to fix the camera's images on paper while at the same time freeing the repressed gentleman from his sexual limitations. Much of the humor comes from Ms. Driver's thoughts, which provide some narration to the tale, as when she assesses the patronizing Mrs. Cavendish (Harriet Walter) as a woman who "seems as though she has a lemon up her posterior." Florence Hoath turns in a cute performance as Clementina, the thirteen-year-old spoiled brat who is tamed by her governess while Tom Wilkinson shows his flexibility this year by playing both an enraged homophobe in "Wilde" and a tormented, obsessed scientist in "The Governess."

Urban audiences will be pleased by Goldbacher's view of country estates, in which wealthy patrons allegedly enjoy their lives in quiet and splendor. Mrs. Cavendish is, after all, bored out of her mind; their son Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is disturbed enough to be thrown out of college; and Mr. Cavendish is oppressed by the surroundings. Even when returning to her cholera-embattled digs in London, Rosina-- who has lost her mother to a disease that is ravishing the city- -realizes that there's no place like home. Minnie Driver finally has the role of her career; one that utilizes her considerable acting talent and the dark Mediterranean features which have allowed performers like Joe Mantegna (in "Homicide") and John Turturro (in "The Truce") to achieve splendid turns as Jews. The sound track of Sephardic songs is mesmerizing, as is the rest of the picture.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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