Graham Swift's Fenland novel paid homage to a part of Britain that's been ignored by film, unless you count Dakota Road. Gyllenhaal rises to the challenge of Swift's prose, capturing a flat land bogged down in its past, and creating an extravagant historical picture that avoids the traps of the Hovis-ad picturesque. The crazy-paving narrative and musings on the nature of history have inevitably been reduced in Peter Prince's script, but the essentials are there: memory, madness, incest, eels and real ale. History teacher Tom Crick (Irons), about to be axed by headmaster Heard, interrupts his classes to deliver a rambling memoir about his youth in the Fens, delving back to WWI and beyond to explain the multiple reasons behind the crack-up of his wife Mary (Cusack). There are obvious concessions to the US market; and as in his previous film, Paris Trout, Gyllenhaal bites off more narrative than he can chew, so that, for example, Cusack's character gets lost somewhere en route. Still, it's a brave endeavour, held together by Robert Elswit's poetic photography, and by Irons' authoritative impression of the crumbling desperation behind the chalk-dusted facade of a pensive history man.