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Angels and Insects

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Angels and Insects

Starring: Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Philip Haas
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: January 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Patsy Kensit, Jeremy Kemp, Douglas Henshall, Annette Badland, Chris Larkin, Anna Massey, Saskia Wickham

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie review
2.  Pedro Sena read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

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

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