Time Out saysSzabó's personal history of modern Hungary spans 150 years and has Fiennes incarnate three generations of the Sonnenschein family. Jews of peasant stock who make their fortune with a family recipe for herbal tonic, the Sonnenscheins achieve respectability in the early 20th century with the meteoric career of Ignatz (Fiennes), a lawyer and judge who changes his surname to Sors ('Destiny') and pledges allegiance to the Hapsburg Empire. Adam (Fiennes) inherits his father's assimilationist zeal, converts to Catholicism, and wins a gold medal in fencing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; in the film's most powerful scene, he's stripped, beaten and murdered in a Nazi labour camp. Consumed by his father's death, Ivan (Fiennes again) becomes a scourge of the fascists in post-war Communist Hungary, but is forced to re-evaluate as the regime falls back on the same totalitarian instincts that have plagued the country through the century. Szabó has an awful lot to cram into the three hours he's allowed himself to do the saga justice. That the Sors men are inveterate ladykillers thickens the stew, entailing romantic complications with Ehle, Weisz, Unger and Parker. Szabó's characteristically dense, ambitious film is a little dry, conservative and (understandably) humourless. Yet it's an absorbing, weighty picture, which worries at still important ideas about duty and inheritance, and at how we may define ourselves against the tide of history.
Cast and crew
Jennifer Ehle, William Hurt, Bill Paterson, Ralph Fiennes, Molly Parker, James Frain, Rosemary Harris, Rüdiger Vogler, Deborah Kara Unger, John Neville, Rachel Weisz, Miriam Margolyes, David de Keyser