• U.S.

CINEMA: TEACUP TRYST

2 minute read
Richard Schickel

IS IT THE GOOD TURTLE SOUP OR ONLY the mock? Or to put the question more directly, is the lengthy, unconsummated love affair between Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) one of the great tragic romances of our century or just another of those neurotic dithers the Bloomsbury crowd was always working themselves into?

Christopher Hampton, the playwright who wrote and directed Carrington, obviously believes it was the former. Yet his account of the relationship between the half-forgotten painter and the homosexual who turned biography into a modernist art form is distant and gingerly, respectful and respectable. Reason tells us that there must have been something more needy and smothering in her nature, something more grasping and careless in his, than Hampton shows us. After all, Dora did marry a handsome youth not because she was smitten with him but because Lytton was. Yet their menage a trois is presented blandly, and her forays in search of sexual satisfaction have little dramatic consequence. Mostly this is a movie in which people take soulful country strolls or wait expectantly for Lytton to lob a withering epigram.

Pryce is awfully good at this, and his hard, gleaming performance as Strachey–a physically frail, morally strong man who never asks for sympathy but somehow elicits it–almost redeems the film. Thompson, however, keeps undoing it. Hers is a commonsensical presence, and try as she may, she cannot catch the fever of hopeless love. Or the suicidal despair to which Carrington eventually came. You want her–and the movie–to rattle the teacups with rage. But they never do.

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