The White Countess

  • Film
  • Drama
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Ivory without Merchant: is that what’s missing? The ingredients are there – a high-powered cast, a script from Kazuo Ishiguro (‘The Remains of the Day’), an exotic background (Shanghai), a period both momentous and picturesque (the Japanese-threatened 1930s). But the result is inert.

The inescapably clichéd plot just steers clear of romantic novelettishness. White Russian Sofia (Natasha Richardson) works in a low dive as a hostess who, though it’s never clarified, may provide extra services. In the sort of film where foreigners converse in heavily accented English, she supports her family, including a couple of Redgraves. They nevertheless despise her and try to alienate her adored little daughter. Sofia is soon scented, literally, by Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes), now blinded but once a diplomat and ‘the last hope of the League of Nations’.

Obsessed with Shanghai nightlife, he opens a nightclub with Sofia presiding. Being unsighted, he takes the charmlessly languid Richardson’s appeal on trust; but his tartan dinner jacket may explain the subsequent demoralisation of the League of Nations.The pace is plodding, the dialogue lifeless (with Fiennes occasionally lapsing into incongruous Jimmy Stewart-style delivery) and the plotting preposterous, as when our blind hero gropes effortlessly through a refugee-packed Shanghai during the Japanese invasion, calmly feeling his way through the raised bayonets of an advance guard (‘Excuse me, gen’lmunn’). There’s no elecricity between him and Richardson, whose mannered self-consciousness hardly justifies her air of complacency. Only Madeleine Potter, malign but pitiable as Sofia’s childless sister-in-law desperate for a loving relationship, provides the depth and contradictions of a real human among these pasteboard cut-outs.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday March 31 2006
Duration: 138 mins

Cast and crew

Director: James Ivory
Cast: Lynn Redgrave
Natasha Richardson
Madeleine Potter
Hiroyuki Sanada
Vanessa Redgrave
Madeleine Daly
Allan Corduner
Ralph Fiennes
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