Acorn Media // 1995 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // June 10th, 2009
Some films should just be left in the closet.
Joanna Trollope's 1989 novel A Village Affair, a tale of an unhappy housewife who finds love in the arms of another woman. The novel was well received for its strong characterizations, and in 1995, the movie was filmed by British television. Acorn Media now brings A Village Affair to DVD. The facts will show, however, that the filmed version trims away the character development so that the result is a soapy mess.
Artist Alice Martin (Sophie Ward, Young Sherlock Holmes) married lawyer Martin Jordan (Nathaniel Parker, Stardust) to escape from her parents' turmoil-filled house. Now, about ten years later, she has it all. The couple, with their three children, has moved into a lovely house in Martin's home village of Pitcombe, a cozy, friendly village. But Alice's life remains curiously empty. A lingering bout of postpartum depression has taken much of the joy from her life; she cannot paint anymore, and her relationship with Martin has become stale.
Enter Clodagh (pronounced Cloe'duh) Unwin (Kerry Fox, The Gathering), the daughter of the local squire. Clodagh's direct manner catches Martin's eye, and before long she is stopping by the Jordan's house, offering to help with the kids. Alice sees immediately that Martin is smitten with Clodagh, and she initially spurns Clodagh's offer of friendship. Over time, though, the two develop a warm, supporting friendship; Alice even starts painting again. However, while Alice had accepted that Clodagh might be interested her husband, she hasn't considered that Clodagh might be interested in her. The women's relationship causes ripples in the way that is only possible in small, sleepy little towns, and eventually Alice will have to make a decision.
The movie is adapted from Joanna Trollope's 1989 novel. Based on the reviews of the book, one of the strengths of that novel appears to be characterization, particularly of all of the supporting characters. That's certainly not a strength that survived the translation to film. Alice is really the only fully realized character; everyone else is more or less a stock character elevated by strong acting. Clodagh in particular is annoyingly unfathomable; is she honestly in love with Alice, or is there some odd Single White Female by way of Fatal Attraction vibe at work? The movie never quite makes up its mind. Initially, she's incredibly pushy and manipulative, but she's quite sympathetic afterwards. Right in the middle is the most troubling scene of all -- right after Clodagh has told Alice of her feelings, as she listens to Alice's stumbling expression of her own feelings, Clodagh slowly moves behind Alice, watching intently, looking like nothing other than a predator circling its prey. It's an unnerving shot frankly, made more disturbing because it doesn't quite match up with anything else the character does. It's hard to fault Kerry Fox too much -- the script doesn't really give her anything resembling a character arc. Come to think of it, that same problem afflicts just about everyone else in the film not named Alice.
The ending is incredibly rushed, with people making big decisions and changing their attitudes for no other reason than to move the plot forward. Several individual scenes ring true, we just can't see how everyone gets from point A to point D, and that's a particular problem in what purports to be a character-driven piece. We don't even get a clear indication of the passage of time in the latter part of the film. The movie clocks in at a brisk 100 minutes; only 10 to 15 more minutes would have allowed for much needed plot and character development.
Trivia: Sophie Ward came out of the closet a year after this film was released, stating that while the movie did help her clarify her feelings, she waited a year to prevent people from concluding that making the film somehow "turned" her. Also, Keira Knightly (Atonement), in one of her first roles, plays Alice's oldest daughter Natasha, but she has little to do.
Technically, the disc is kind of...there. The picture is fairly sharp, but lighter colors are a little washed out, obscuring facial details -- it's particularly noticeable with the fair-skinned Ward. There's one serious hiccup in the film, but it's fairly early. The simple stereo track is hiss-free, but whispered dialogue is difficult to understand. The only extras are cast filmographies and a bio of author Joanna Trollope.
Acting really is the movie's strength. Sophie Ward anchors the whole movie -- we see the emptiness in her eyes in the beginning, and go from their through joy, despair, and hope. The supporting players are good with the little they are given, particularly Claire Bloom (Crimes and Misdemeanors) as Martin's overbearing mother Cecily. Towards the end of the movie, there's an amazing scene between Cecily and her husband Richard (Philip Voss, Four Weddings and a Funeral) that leaves you wanting more.
The name of the film is A Village Affair. If the film had remained true to that title and fully developed the village and its inhabitants, this story could have reached its full potential. Instead, despite Sophie Ward's best efforts, a promising story quickly degenerates into a tawdry potboiler.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated