Director: Richard Laxton
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Tom Sturridge, Emma Thompson, David Suchet, Julie Walters
Running time: 108 minutes
Drama, longing and isolation are the summation of affairs in Richard Laxton’s moody look at the mysterious relationship between Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his teenage bride Effie Gray.
The film is based on a true story, a marriage and its consequences that shocked Victorian society. For a woman to consider herself unhappy enough to leave her husband, and not just leave but fight to have their marriage annulled on legal terms, was simply unheard of in that era and yet the film doesn’t seem to be interested in pursuing this angle. Rather than delve into the social and personal reverberations of such a decision, Laxton instead plants his film largely in the growing distance between this husband and wife pairing. Unfortunately, the telling is nothing we haven’t seen before and leaving out the unique angle of the consequences of Effie’s decision seems a mysterious choice.
The character of Everett Millais, played by Tom Sturridge, seems to have been left out in the cold for the film’s purposes. The painter, with whom Effie went on to marry and have eight children, has an on screen presence for a large proportion of the film and yet somehow manages to be simultaneously an afterthought and the most predictable element in this all too familiar love triangle tale.
Emma Thompson steals the show with her presence in only a handful of scenes as the high society woman who befriends Effie with Julie Walters also strong as the over-bearing mother who isolates Effie further with every glance. Fanning is adequate as the young Victorian trying to find her place in the world after being shunned by her husband but never quite manages to shift her character past first gear, even when escaping the lack freedom and expression imposed by her husband and in-laws and flaunting herself around the streets of Venice with the worst holiday ‘Chaperone’s‘ you’ll ever meet. Her tone is mirrored in the entire film; flat, lacklustre and too gentle to rouse interest.
[usr=2] EFFIE GRAY is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 23rd February.