Like ‘Asylum’s’ Dr Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen), the movie industry specialises in sexual pathology and its associated catastrophes. Making a useful contribution to the subject is therefore pretty tough, but David Mackenzie managed it in his last film (‘Young Adam’, also adapted from a British novel set in the 1950s), telling an affecting story about disaffected characters across whose torpid sexuality death flickered like a fly around a nipple. Unfortunately, ‘Asylum’ proves a disappointingly uninvolving follow-up.When Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) is given a top position at a secure psychiatric hospital, his bored wife Stella (Natasha Richardson) finds her 60-a-day habit and plunging necklines out of step with other asylum wives. Instead she forges a blunt, Chatterleyesque liaison with inmate Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas), who is mad, bad and decidedly dangerous to know. Meanwhile McKellen hovers with predatory charm, as if belatedly auditioning for Hannibal Lecter, and Bonneville is left spitting unpleasantries (although the sharpest lines go to Judy Parfitt as his mother: ‘Don’t let your shame degenerate into self-pity,’ she sniffs at Stella). Each character is unlikeable and deluded, their problems self-inflicted; worse, Mackenzie’s hands-off stance leaves them cold to the touch. Similarly, the setting of drab garretts and blasted plains is not just austere but miserabilist: a long shot of a minibus puffing its way up a desolate Welsh hillside verges on camp. There are some nice touches – the long tracking shot that follows Edgar’s initial bee-line towards Stella at a hospital dance – but others tend towards glibness: a broken glass frame separates them before the tension boils over. The narrative feels broken-backed too, reaching an apparent climax an hour in, and then episodically prolonging Stella’s decline towards a denouement apparently modelled on ‘Vertigo’. But where Hitchcock made tragedy of willing delusion, ‘Asylum’ offers only self-absorption.
Friday September 9 2005
Cast and crew
Patrick Marber, Chrysanthy Balis
Natasha Richardson Ian McKellen Hugh Bonneville Gus Lewis Marton Csokas