Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Review: The Final Four

Over Thanksgiving, and the course of the last week, I finished watching the final four movies for the Period Drama Challenge over at Lights, Camera, History. I had three movies that I had reserved on Netflix, specifically for the challenge, A Harlot's Progress, The Heart of Me, and Zelary, and picked up my final film, Easy Virtue. I will make these short, but try to give a quick overview of these films as best I can.

A Harlot's Progress should have given itself away to me in the title, but I was intrigued by the film information that said that it was based off of an 18th century painter's series of famous paintings of a harlot. What I didn't then realize was that the film would be about the artist's eventual affair with the harlot, even into her downfall to disease. The history mingled in the film really was not enough to outweigh the seediness presented. I think we were supposed to see how the artist became famous from his renditions of the harlot as ironic, that we were to feel sorry for the harlot; however, I struggled to find the continuity in the film and found its historical basis centered too much on the tawdry, and not on strong plot points.

I also had high hopes for The Heart of Me, as it billed actors such as Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Bettany. I can't say that the acting was bad in this 1930s-1940s, London based film. Set in a rich, upper society family, Helena's character, Dinah, has come to live with her married sister and husband (played by Bettany). In a twisted, "bohemian" change of events, Dinah and her brother in law begin a torrid affair. The affair rips the marriage apart, and the society they live in pushes them to silence what might be seen as detrimental to their social standing. Let me just say that I found the film difficult to watch, at best. Several, Greek tragedy like events occurred in the film to make me want to scream. What might have been construed as a husband unhappy in his marriage became a sick, selfish story that I struggled to find any human element that I could connect to. In the end, behaviors and choices led to the devastating unhappiness that was spread around for all to suffer through.

Thankfully, the final two films I watched were a complete JOY and contained wonderful, complex storylines that the viewer could grasp onto and carry away in their own lives.

The first was an Oscar nominated foreign film, Zelary. In this World War II drama, nurse Eliska is forced to flee to the mountain countryside for fear of being found out by the Gestapo in her part of the Czech resistance movement. Although in a relationship with one of the doctors at the hospital, Eliska and the doctor are split up and Eliska is carted off to a remote mountainside village with a former patient Eliska (renamed Hana) had cared for. In an effort to hide Hana in the village, she and her caretaker are forced into marriage. Over time, Hana and her "husband" fall in love and settle into a happy life, far from the madness of the rest of the world. All of this peace ends when the Russian liberation comes into town. You are meant to be filled with a certain hope, but there is a more painful human story to war, that we see horrifically played out, and that is the violence against women and children, but mainly women. I wanted to scream, and my heart ached as women were brutalized (which actually happened to various vulnerable women throughout the film) by selfish, often intoxicated men. It was gut-wrenching, and made me hurt for women across the globe that suffer rape and violence as a selfish act, and often one that is used as part of the torture of an opposing faction. It is horrific, and continues today in many parts of the globe.

While violent, and containing scenes of sensuality, I found Zelary to be haunting in a very mature sense. The themes of war, violence, and humanity melded into a fine film of haunting beauty. While not a light-handed film, I felt as though it left a mark on me; a mark that I am not eager to let go.

The final film I watched was Easy Virtue, with large name actors such as Colin Firth and Jessica Biel. Based on a Noel Coward play set in the 1920s in England between WWI & WWII, the mother of a large estate awaits the return of her son from his tour of the continent to help with their crumbling estate only to find that he has returned with an American wife, played by Biel. In the beginning, their new daughter in law tries to fit in and please them, but quickly finds that her new mother in law has little patience for her, nor her background (which slowly comes out). The father in law (played by Colin Firth), however, finds his new daughter in law's gumption and ability to stand up to his wife to be refreshing. Through a variety of fun interactions within the family, and a series of events that unfold, we learn more about our character's lives that create a subtle humor to the film.

I really, really loved this film with its witty scenes, engaging storyline, and fantastic acting. Probably one of the funnest films I've watched for this challenge, I have even purchased it for my own library. While each film I've reviewed has its own panache, there are certain films I would readily recommend. For more information about these varied films, you can click on the "films" link in the right-hand column for each of their reviews.

While I combined many of my later film reviews for the challenge, I wanted to thank Lights, Camera, History for this great challenge. As a lover of all things history and drama, this was the perfect challenge to participate in. Thank you for this great opportunity! Although this is a season of Christmas films, I hope you find something that might spark an interest down the road.


  1. Great films. I only saw (and reviewed) two of them but the other two ones are now on my TBW list! Thank you.

  2. Easy Virtue sounds fun. That's too bad about The Heart of Me--I heart Paul Bettany.