Dir. Martha Fiennes, UK / France / US, 2005, 140 mins
Cast: Damian Lewis, Kristin Scott Thomas, Penelope Cruz
Review by Carol Allen
Writer/director Fiennes has drawn together an exceptionally strong cast for this her second film, which is a long way removed from the period drama of her debut Onegin.
Unusually for a contemporary British film, the story deals with the emotional and ethical problems of a group of largely privileged and affluent people. Damien Lewis plays Marcus Aylesbury, a city type who comes from a wealthy family. He and his wife Iona (Scott Thomas) live in an ultra modern, beautiful but sterile house. Their son Orlando (Clem Tibber) has behavioural problems and Iona takes refuge from her a marriage, which has become as sterile as her home, in shopping for designer clothes and is toying with the idea of breast enhancement surgery, in the hope it will enable her to recapture her husband's interest. Marcus's dominating father (Ian Holm) is trying to draw him into a financial scam, which could ruin his career if it ever came out, and when his old friend, investigative journalist Trent (Chaplin) gets wind of this, Trent is tempted to abandon his ideals of using journalism to make a difference for good and go for a story which could make him a media star. The less affluent side of life is played out alongside in the story of social worker Colin (Rhys Ifans), who becomes personally involved with one of his clients, prostitute and single mother client Gloria (Penelope Cruz), who is dying of cancer. Meanwhile, Iona's best friend, gay art dealer Stephen (Ralph Fiennes) ends up in hospital after forming an unwise friendship with three working class youths, who beat him up.
While it might be tempting to believe that the problems of people with plenty of money cannot possibly be that serious, Fiennes casts a far more sympathetic and perceptive eye over her characters and is well served by her ensemble cast. Scott Thomas shows us the vulnerability beneath Iona's beautifully clad exterior, Lewis takes Marcus from total self confidence to haunted panic, Chaplin ensures that Trent is no simplistic "bad journalist" cliché but a genuinely conflicted man and Cruz and Ifans provide a down to earth element as the “have nots” of this world. Cruz in particular is very good.
This elegantly constructed comedy drama delves effectively into the morals and values of contemporary British society on several levels without ever losing sight of the humanity of those involved in the drama and the fragility of the lives they have created, which can so easily be threatened. The interweaving of the characters builds into a cohesive and satisfying whole with the apparently unconnected stories of Gloria and the Aylesbury family finally coming together in a very touching and unexpected way.