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The White Countess – Review
UKScreen Rating:

The White Countess – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Working from an original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro (whose book “The Remains of the Day” inspired another Merchant-Ivory production), the film, set in 1930’s Shanghai, tells the thoroughly uninteresting story of the relationship between a former American diplomat (Ralph Fiennes), whose past has left him both literally and metaphorically blind to the changing world surrounding him, and a deposed Russian countess (Natasha Richardson), who has been reduced by circumstance to working as a dance-hall girl to support her daughter and her late husband’s hateful relatives (played by, among others, Richardson’s real-life mother and aunt, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave). Both try to ignore the world around them–Fiennes befriends a mysterious Japanese man even though it appears that he may be planning an invasion of Shanghai while Richardson allows her monstrous in-laws to mistreat her over the way she makes a living (while still accepting every cent) and then, when there is a chance to flee to Hong Kong, convince her that it would be better all around if they take her own daughter with them and strand Richardson in Shanghai–until events literally begin to blow up around them and they are forced to confront both themselves and the world around them.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Watching this movie feels like visiting a museum. The cinematography is lush and beautiful and the production design pays great attention to details, which make it look like an epic. It’s also filled with first class performers, like Ralph Fiennes and the Redgraves. With this premise you would expect a great movie, but sadly it’s far from that.
This is a classic example of “you can’t make a great movie from a bad script”. The central plot doesn’t have any drama, emotional depth or purpose and it melts into other weaker subplots that also suffer from the same problem. As the film tediously plods along, you become desperate to see the characters develop and do something tangible that would move the story forward, but nothing happens and consequently you lose interest in the characters and their lives. And when, right at the end, something does happen, you are already either asleep or uninterested and just dying to get out of there.
This is a historic film because it brings to an end the 40 years collaboration between James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, who passed away last May. So you might be interested to see it just for that reason, but don’t expect to be thrilled or emotionally provoked.

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