Poliakoff's film finds the seeds of two of the 20th century's big ideas present on the cusp of 1900 - eugenics, which led to the Holocaust, and the emancipation of women. Thus Professor Mandry (Dance) sterilises the poor without their consent, and Clara (Richardson) demands control over her own life and no marriage-knot in her relationship with idealistic young doctor Paul Reisner (Owen). But if the plot structure is pleasing, the pacing is not, and the stand-off between the Prof and Doc stalls so badly that it takes an Ealing caricature, philanthropist Joan Hickson, to kick-start the drama again. Paul becomes the Prof's star pupil at the research hospital, hankers after lab assistant Clara, crosses the Prof, turns to Clara for solace, and when he discovers the sterilisation programme, pulls the plug on the entire institution. Dance is elitist arrogance to a nicety, Richardson appropriately spiky, and Stephens turns up in an impersonation of Owen's Romanian Jewish father. A big theme that got away.
Cast and crew
Charles Dance Clive Owen Miranda Richardson Robert Stephens Joan Hickson Lena Headey