Compared with the daring vision of Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, costume drama Effie Gray, about the doomed marriage of Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his teenage bride, is a disappointingly safe and dull affair.
In Leigh's film, Ruskin was unfairly but entertainingly caricatured as a simpering nincompoop. Here, as scripted by Emma Thompson and played by Greg Wise, he comes across as an extremely cold fish, a prissy, deeply repressed prude in thrall to his suffocating parents (David Suchet, Julie Walters).
By contrast, his very young wife (Dakota Fanning) is turned by Thompson into a proto-feminist as she strives to annul their marriage on grounds of non-consummation and seeks happiness instead with her husband’s protégé, Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge).
A great scandal of the day, this turbulent romantic triangle remains inert here amid the lush costumes and handsome vistas of the Scottish Highlands and the canals and palaces of Venice.
Certificate 12. Runtime 104 mins. Director Richard Laxton.
Released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 23rd February by Metrodome Distribution.
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A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.