A study in cultural cross-pollination from the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team. Prompted by the recent discovery of a piece of Jane Austen juvenilia - a schoolgirl fantasy playlet about abduction at the hands of a rake - the film again finds them exploring the ways in which the past becomes appropriated and re-processed in the present. Two small New York theatre companies, with widely differing ideas about how the unearthed play ought to be staged (period operetta versus avant-gardist 'performance' event), vie with each other for the patronage of a wealthy cultural foundation which has acquired the rights to the manuscript. The contending claims of tradition, experiment and capital are given narrative thrust, but no real focus or amplification, by the developing feud between the two rival directors: an ageing Anne Baxter and her protégé-turned-Svengali, Robert Powell. Personal differences are allowed to oust artistic differences so comprehensively that the film simply loses its way, disappointingly playing itself out as a series of flashy real-life variations on Austen's original abduction theme. Really, it's all just a little too clever for its own good.
Cast and crew
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Anne Baxter Robert Powell Michael Wager Sean Young Tim Choate Nancy New John Guerrasio Katrina Hodiak Kurt Johnson Charles McCaughan