Neil Jordan, one of the exec producers, suggested that Elizabeth Bowen's novel about the twilight of the Ascendancy in Ireland would be ideal for the first film of Deborah Warner, esteemed theatre and opera director. In the event, she has surrounded herself with the very best, developing the screenplay with John Banville, and drawing on cinematography and music from two of Kieslowski's former collaborators. Casting, too, for this story of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in the autumn of 1920 is exemplary: Smith as the imperious lady of the manor, Gambon as the husband who's not quite as vague as he seems, Shaw the 'bohemian' vamp of a houseguest who sees through all of them. The centre of attention, however, is newcomer Hawes as Smith's young charge, whose yearning for excitement sees her torn between a British army officer and a notorious Republican terrorist. The film delivers quality performances and creates a suitably persuasive country house setting in which events unfold, but surprises are few on this well trodden ground, and the insights are hardly devastating. Though Warner does some eccentric things with the camera, she mainly concentrates on giving the actors their due. Against such competition, Hawes' trembling between passion and reticence looks accomplished indeed.
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