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Awesome: 4.55%
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2 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Governess, The
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by Isobel Sharp

"A leather dress never goes out of style."
3 stars

I think there was a lot going on in this movie. I think there was a lot of Symbolism, and probably a Message. I think it had something to do with images and duplicity. I could say more about it, but I think I'd just be making it up.

The plot of this film, set in mid-19th century England, is relatively straightforward: Rosina (Minnie Driver), a young, educated Jewish woman, goes to work as a governess to support her family after the sudden death of her father. In order to get along (indeed, to get a decent job at all), she pretends to be a Christian, Mary Blackchurch, and hides the truth about her religion, background, and upbringing. Mr. Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson, even more naked than he was in "The Full Monty"), the head of the family she works for, is a proto-photographer, and the curious and enthusiastic Mary soon becomes his lab assistant, as well as his lover. As in all situations when the boss starts sleeping with the help, it ends poorly, and Mary goes back to being Rosina, and back to London, though with a new profession - portrait photographer.

One of the best things about The Governess is the way it looks - the landscape is lush, the colors are rich; Minnie Driver practically glistens in her leather-look dresses (which I simply must believe are a very shiny fabric, or else incredibly out-of-period). The photography lab is fantastic, with all the accoutrements of things-in-jars that one would expect of a 19th century at-home scientist, and a beautiful glass room-within-a-room used in part as a photography set. The contrast between the warm and colorful home Rosina leaves behind and the more stark, classical look of her employer's house emphasizes the different lives she will live, and Rosina's red scarves and dressing gown make her stand out as a clear outsider in these rather bland surroundings.

The theme of being an outsider is picked up explicitly by Rosina's status as a Jew in a Gentile world. However, this theme (like the others in the film) is present but never really developed, which makes this a very frustrating film to watch. Her Jewishness, and that it makes her different from the Christians she works for, is much talked about by Rosina, but we don't get to really feel it, or see it play out in a significant way. Yes, she can't go to synagogue and must go to church instead, and she seems non-plussed by the crucified guy on the cross in her bedroom, but she doesn't really let it get her down. She's an aggressive, curious person by nature, and insinuates her way into those things she finds interesting, not really remaining an outsider for long.

The other themes of the film have more potential, which doesn't mean they fare much better in development. Photography, the practice (still new at the time) of fixing images on paper, provides a rich set of possible metaphors. Do the images of people really represent what they are, or only what they seem to be? How does making a transitory moment in time permanent affect the moment? If photography is a science with an artistic component, then how far can we truly separate reason from creativity?

What's most frustrating is that the film touches on many of these themes, explicitly or otherwise, yet the viewer never really gets drawn into them. Rosina's duplicity, the failure of her image to fit her reality, has a lot of explosive power - but ultimately, the trouble comes not from this, but from the lovesick behavior of Cavendish's son, as well as Rosina's own daring. The irony is that Rosina is very honest in almost every way, and that probably gets her into more trouble than the lies she's told. Unfortunately, it's a pretty underdeveloped irony.

Ultimately, this is a movie that will give a viewer a lot to think about. That is, it will if the viewer makes a point of stringing together all of the potentially interesting themes in her head and finding all the symbols herself. Sadly, the film lays them all out for view, but makes little effort to make a coherent thematic whole of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=233&reviewer=291
originally posted: 01/06/02 01:08:32
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User Comments

5/31/14 jim clifford She assures her employer she is NOT a Catholic.You got it wrong. 4 stars
5/22/06 Ashley Hinz Bizarre movie, in a way. Rys-Meyers adds nothing to it. 4 stars
6/29/05 Jen Pretty cinematography, blah plot 3 stars
9/27/02 Sayuri Pillay Brilliant 5 stars
5/23/02 Bonnie B. Three words: Jonathan Rys-Meyers naked. Lovely film, poor screenplay. 4 stars
2/22/00 Chrissy T Two words: Jonathan Rys Meyers. 4 stars
1/23/00 Norma Bernstock Loved the look of the film, the photography connection, loved looking at Minnie Driver 4 stars
12/24/98 Bats With the costumes, music and set design, I keep wondering why I didn't like this more... 3 stars
9/08/98 Joy Shayne Laughter Visually luscious, loved the Victorian Sephardic sections, Minnie's dresses were weird 4 stars
8/22/98 Mister Whoopee Decidely bland Minnie Driver 3 stars
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  31-Jul-1998 (R)


  02-Feb-1999 (R)

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