Film Scouts Reviews

"The Winter Guest"

by Karen Jaehne

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For his directing debut, Alan Rickman has preserved for us a play by a talented dramatist. They made no great attempt to open up the play and transform it to a movie. But as a play, it's better theater than what's on Broadway.

Emma Thompson gives a stunning performance devoid of her usual 'is this really me?' mannerisms. As a recent widow coping with her mother and son, Emma goes through the gamut of grieving in a totally credible fashion.

The play is constructed of four tales, each featuring two people learning to get along and to define their differences and deal with fears of loss. The cinematography is exquisite, picking up the details of a village on the edge of a frozen sea. It feels very Strindberg but it's Scottish.

Emma and her mother take a long walk and go through the push-me/pull-you of mother/daughter relationships. It's funny and touching, and neither one of them will let go.

Emma's son is played by Gary Hollywood, whose desire for and anxiety about sex with Nita forms another strand. Adolescence is painful for both of them, as they play at growing up and are frightened back into childhood by the spectre of the dead father.

Two lovely old women played with spry wit by Sheila Reid and Sandra Voe attend funerals. They are connoisseurs of the undertaker's art, and their madcap mourning takes a sober turn, as their own friendship is suddenly threatened by the inevitable. Charmingly content with their age, this story gently avoids the pathos that too often imbues tales of old ladies.

Two young boys are also playing hooky along the seashore. Sam and Tom have worldviews, as only young kids can, speculating on grand ideas. They are fearful of losing each other, yet determined to explore the unknown, and the final scene of them venturing out onto the icy sea into a fog-bound future achieves a breathtaking poetry. As the film ends, we exhale, and with that breath relieve our own fear of death, loss and uncharted emotions.

Anybody who has ever sniffed the bad breath of the grim reaper cannot help but love this play, and Alan Rickman's observance of the conventions of the theater only increase the pleasure of viewing it on the screen. He has put cinema at the service of drama instead of enslaving drama for movie conventions. Sometimes conventions must be defied, and we should cheer Alan Rickman for his brilliant defiance. We should also hope that Emma Thompson wins the European Oscar - the Felix - for which she has been nominated and seems to be the front-runner.

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