I think ANGELS AND INSECTS is supposed to be a morality tale, but
it is so outlandish, it is comes off more as parody. If it were not so
slow and somber, one might be tempted to laugh at it.
ANGELS AND INSECTS tells about the lives of naturalists and is set
in England in 1864. The movie's purpose is to show the strong linkage
between humans and insects. In one of the more pedantic editing jobs
(Belinda Haas) in recent memory, we have frequent cuts between the
horrors of the insect world and that of the human. Although there are
several memorable insects scenes, perhaps the most dramatic is the
immolation scene of the moths in the ubiquitous candles that lit the
rooms of that era. A close second is a scene straight out of THE BIRDS
but with moths instead of birds attaching the helpless female.
As the movie starts, the camera (Bernard Zitzermann) is drawn into
swirl of unfocused images which on closer inspection turn out to be
"savages" dancing. As soon as the viewer realizes that the film is
meant to be out of focus and that he does not need to run and complain
to the manager, the film switches to a swirl of upper-class dancers in
England and here the colors are rich and the picture is sharp. Watch
the costumes (Paul Brown) in this and every scene of the show for they
are as ridiculous and pedantic as the editing. Some gowns are
overgrown with fruit favored by insects while others are made to look
like insects, e.g., bold and broad, yellow and black bee stripes.
It seems that Mr. William Adamson (Mark Rylance) has just returned
from the Amazon without his specimens, having lost them all in a
shipwreck. This means he has no way of earning a living. This
predicament is quickly solved when Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp)
and Lady Alabaster (Annette Badland) invite him to stay in their home
since they all share an interest in entomology. Well it turns out that
the Alabaster's home is a highly dysfunctional one, and we have long
since learned from the movies that almost all Victorian homes were.
Since I am sure movies would not lie to us, it is nice to be safely
ensconced in the late twentieth century.
Mr. Adamson soon falls under the spell of the lovely Eugenia
Alabaster (Patsy Kensit). She has a slight problem in that her
previous fiance killed himself rather than marry her for mysterious
reasons which left her a bit mixed up. Nevertheless, Mr. Adamson soon
marries her. Eugenia has a brother Edger (Douglas Henshall) who is the
canonical rich wastrel. He does not approve of Mr. Adamson and tells
him, "you are underbreed and not a good match for my sister."
The servants all turn their heads and face the wall whenever Mr.
Adamson goes by, and he does not know what to make of this. As
Eugenia's relative Matty Crompton (Kristin Scott Thomas) says, "There
are people in houses who can know a great deal if they choose." I
guess the servants are not supposed to know the dark secrets of the
Alabaster household. The shocking ending of this movie is telegraphed
about a million times, but I will not reveal it here, although the
trailers for the movie do. In one of the better pieces of dialog, the
husband says of the mystery, "Whom can I tell that I should not destroy
in the telling."
This is a show where I developed an admiration for all of the fine
details of my watch. At the one hour point, I began to wonder what, if
anything, was ever going to happen. As it turns out, in the last
quarter of the film the actors and actress come alive as if they had
come through a metamorphosis. Why director Philip Haas did not breath
live into the show before then astonishes me. There is a genuine,
albeit mainly unrealized, potential in this picture.
Actually, the worst part of the movie is not the plodding
direction, it is the stilted script by Belinda and Philip Haas. Most
of the lines fall like stones and are laden with gibberish. A typical
one forces the excellent actress Kristin Scott Thomas to have to say
verbatim, "I wish humankind would create such altruistic virtues, but
sometimes I think socialism may never be realized."
ANGELS AND INSECTS runs too long at 1:57. It is rated R for lots
of sex including certain perversions and full male and female frontal
nudity, but if you are looking for an erotic show, I think you have the
wrong film. I would not let teenagers see the show unless they were
mature. Although I am glad the characters finally came alive toward
the end, I can not recommend ANGELS AND INSECTS to anyone, and I give
it a single * for a good conclusion to a poor film.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes