Koch Vision // 1994 // 206 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // April 21st, 2006
Passions run high when politics and the press collide.
From the Judge Rankins Dictionary of Movie Terminology:
Miniseries (n.): A motion picture script padded, stretched, and bloated with unnecessary content in order to fill multiple nights of television programming. SEE: Faith.
On a blind date, tabloid reporter Nick Simon (John Hannah, The Mummy Returns) hooks up with beautiful attorney Holly Moreton (Susannah Harker, Ultraviolet). He's a widowed father (of a moody little girl named -- what else? -- Faith) employed by News On Sunday, a scandal rag more famous for its topless pinup girls than for legitimate journalism. She's the daughter of a prominent Member of Parliament, and commitment-phobic from watching her parents' loveless marriage disintegrate into hollow pretense.
Eager to strike a blow against her pompous, distant old man, Holly reveals a secret to Nick on the night they meet: Daddy dearest, aka former British Secretary of State Peter John "P.J." Moreton (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire), has been carrying on an illicit affair with his office assistant. At first, Nick isn't certain what to do with this scoop-worthy tidbit, for two reasons. One, he likes Holly and doesn't want to alienate her by splashing her father's indiscretions across the front page of his paper. Two, he doesn't realize that Holly knows he's a reporter -- he's told her that he freelances for travel periodicals, unaware that Holly searched the pockets of his coat and discovered his press pass.
When the budding romance stumbles, Nick, hustling to save himself from the downsizing ax, goes to his editor (Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers) with Holly's revelation about her father -- just as Moreton is about to testify in a high-profile, incendiary trial that will rock Her Majesty's political system to its foundations.
The chief problem with Faith is that it's a tiresome three-and-one-half-hour miniseries with a cracking good two-hour movie buried somewhere inside, struggling to break out. There's a fine story here -- just not enough of one to effectively consume as much celluloid as is required of it. A judicious editor could have slashed 90 or so minutes out of the finished product, and still left something quite entertaining at the end of the process. As it is, Faith creeps along at sloth-like velocity, forcing us as viewers to endure one dull red herring and pointless subplot after another until our collective attention span collapses under the strain.
Faith is the kind of film in which certain events occur and people take certain action for no better reason than to kill time. Things happen only because the filmmakers need to fill the exact number of minutes it takes for said things to happen. That's the most cynical kind of cheat to an audience: The director is wasting our valuable lives just because the network marketing department has more commercial slots to sell.
That's not to imply that Faith is terrible. It isn't. In fact, it's actually quite good, at least the parts of it that advance the central narrative. The primary characters are engagingly drawn, the dialogue feels genuine, the plot takes a few surprising turns, and the levels of acting and production craft are high. There's just way too much of all of the above to support the simple, straightforward story the screenplay wants to tell.
Therefore, because the movie has to gobble footage the way a trencherman attacks a buffet, director John Strickland and writer Simon Burke concoct all manner of cinematic flotsam and jetsam and force us to swim through the wreckage. A savvy viewer with an active thumb on the fast-forward button will be amazed at how much of Faith can be breezed past without harming in the least one's ability to follow the main story. That's a job the audience shouldn't be forced to perform. We should be able to sit back and enjoy the movie, and leave the editing to the professionals.
A quality cast does solid, if unmemorable, work throughout this rather low-key affair. Michael Gambon is fine in a role he could have telephoned in. (Come to think of it, there are at least a couple of scenes in which Gambon does exactly that.) Susannah Harker is charming and takes a pretty picture, but doesn't display much electricity as the conflicted Holly. John Hannah, who may be familiar to some viewers as the protagonist in the Inspector Rebus series of telefilms, does a acceptable job playing the nice-guy everyman at the eye of the film's storm, although subtitles would have proven useful in deciphering Hannah's thick Scottish burr.
A slew of less-well-known British character players also share the scenery. I'm glad that all of these folks got work for a few days back in '94 -- I just can't help feeling that Faith could have gotten along just dandy without several of them (such as the grieving parents of the murdered daughter, and the gay secretary, and the duplicitous political operative, to name but a few) and their screen time.
In general terms, Faith falls within the genre of political thrillers -- sort of a modern-day Scandal or a lower-stakes All the President's Men. Its overly long running time, however, drains the film of any suspense, and the abundant soap opera elements distract from the intrigue. It's not bad for what it is, but tightened to half its present length, the film might have been developed greater momentum and a bit more excitement.
A dozen years after it played on UK television, Faith gets the bare minimum treatment from Koch Vision's DVD release. The fullscreen transfer is warm in tone and natural in color, but shows its age in its consistent graininess and occasional minor instances of source print defects. The two-channel soundtrack is adequate, but I frequently found the dialogue difficult to hear -- a real detriment, given the pronounced accents of some members of the cast and the absence of subtitles. No extra content is included.
One of these days, someone will explain to me -- in words that make logical sense -- the reason why the British courts still insist, in these modern times, on members of the legal profession sporting those ridiculous wigs in the courtroom. Does it somehow facilitate English jurisprudence to have judges and lawyers looking like a road company of 1776, or the DVD Verdict mascot?
The virtue most appropriate to this meandering miniseries, is Patience, not Faith. Might be worth a rental if you enjoy British political drama, but only if you have copious free time and a book of crossword puzzles handy to keep your mind occupied during the many slow passages.
Guilty of squandering about 103 of its 206 minutes. And I don't need to be wearing a powdered wig to make that pronouncement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 206 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated