John Maybury conjured a visceral, twisted fairytale in his 1992 reworking of Manfred Karge’s gender-blurring one-woman play. Star Tilda Swinton revels in the full range of her androgynous looks as Ella Gericke, a young widow in Weimar Germany who assumes the identity of her dead husband to survive. Submerged in her male disguise, s/he is buffeted by fate through the rise and fall of the Third Reich and into an embittered old age in a nicotine-stained flat, a bottle of schnapps and a flickering television for company.
Much of the time, Maybury keeps his focus tight on Swinton’s agile face (as he’d done to similarly mesmerising effect in his music video for Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’). Swinton, who had already performed the role onstage, turns in a blistering performance, fixing the camera with a crooked grin and shape-shifting through multiple personas. She’s a mischievous, bawdy raconteur, spitting out her woeful life story with biting wit against a backdrop of ghostly newsreel footage.