CARRINGTON is a biographical movie about the painter Dora
Carrington and her life long love, the writer and critic Lytton
Strachey. If you are like me and have never heard of this painter,
you will not only learn about her life, you will also get to see some
of her marvelous paintings at the end of the movie during the credits.
To me her paintings are like a cross between a Renoir and an Edward
Hopper, and I would love to see an exhibition of her work some day.
Similarly, if you have never read any of the writings of Lytton
Strachey, this is no problem either since the artistic talents of the
two protagonists of CARRINGTON are of minor importance. The film is
about undying love while at the same time attempting to lay waste to
the notion of monogamy. A fascinating contrast.
The movie starts in 1915 with a statement that Dora Carrington
(Emma Thompson) then was known as "a painter of exceptional promise."
At the start of the show she meets Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce).
Their initial meeting is inauspicious. Lytton asks her friend, "Who
is that ravishing boy?" and she tells him, "Carrington", and he says,
"oh" very disappointedly since he is unabashed gay. Lytton's clothes
(by Penny Rose) are old and Bohemian looking, and he always has a
scraggly beard. Nevertheless, from the moment Carrington lays her eyes
on him, she is smitten and wants to spend her life with him. Since he
finds women unappealing this does present a major dilemma for her.
She spends the rest of the movie going to bed with a long series
of men including Lytton, but he keeps his eyes out mainly for young
men. Unlike the typical love triangle, the relationships in this film
form a pointed star of uncountable number of points. Among others, the
lovers include Steven Waddington as Ralph Partridge, Samuel West as
Gerald Brenan, and Rufus Sewell as Mark Gertler. I was keeping a
mental list for a while, but eventually lost track. Through affairs
and marriages she always lives with Lytton. Although the movie goes on
for over twenty years, the make-up by Chrissie Beveridge was poorly
done and the actors and actresses never age.
I liked this movie for the dreamy atmosphere it provided. They
play a Schubert String Quintet at one point, and its slow and smooth
intonations are an apt metaphor to the happiness that Carrington
radiates. She keeps remarking how being with Lytton makes her so
incredibly happy. At the same time, she makes love with almost every
man in the movie with the exception of some of Lytton's boyfriends.
The sparse dialog by Christopher Hampton is quite witty. Lytton
relates to Carrington that, "I tend to be impulsive in these matters
like the time I asked Virginia Woolf to marry me." Carrington asks,
"She turned you down?" "No, she accepted. It was ghastly," he
replies. When Lytton finally becomes famous and gets compliments from
the conservative press that he loathes, he says, "It isn't easy
remaining calm in the face of excessive praise from The Daily
Telegraph." Lytton is played as a man ancient before his time. In the
first of the show he complaints about how old he is, when he is but 36.
First time director Christopher Hampton gives the audience a show
that drifts along with the easy of a slow stream in summer. Even as
the love relationships get more complex, the show stays with its simple
veneer. Unsuccessful attempts at shattering the calm are statements by
Lytton proclaiming that "There are times when I feel like a character
in a farce." The cinematography by Denis Lenoir has many scenes of
inner peace crafted by filming the English countryside in sunset hues
and the inside in the warmth of small rooms with equally small
fireplaces casting golden shadows. The characters spend significant
amounts of time staring happily at each other. The music by Michael
Nyman fits the mood created by the director perfectly.
Although the show appears devoid of any morals other than live
for the moment, it provides a peaceful diversion. Lytton summons it
up when he declares of his young male boyfriends, "I find these young
people refreshing. They have no morals and never speak."
The scene that best illustrates the movie has Carrington alone at
night outside a great house owned by Lytton. Wrapped in a blanket she
watches couples in every window - all about to make love. Ultimately
the movie is a paean to living life to the fullest without being
troubled with values. When her new husband, Ralph's best friend Gerald
shows up and falls in love with Carrington, she can not understand why
Gerald is troubled when they start making out with her husband only
fifty yards away. And yet, the story is anchored in her complete love
The acting is excellent. Emma Thompson is always great, and this
movie was not exception. She takes a simple and direct approach to the
character, and it works. Jonathan Pryce has a more complex character
to deal with, and he is up to it. Lytton is a bit of conundrum, and
Pryce exploits this to the fullest. You never quite understand what
Lytton is thinking, and yet he is such an intriguing and quirky
character that you can see why Carrington is attracted to him even if
he claims to detest the sight of women's bodies.
CARRINGTON runs too long at 2:02. The editor (George Akers) has
left in numerous scenes that he should have deleted in their entirety.
The movie is rated R for bad language, some sex, brief nudity, and a
total lack of morals. Only mature teenagers should go and then I would
advise discussing it with them thoroughly afterwards. For me, the
dreamy mood of the picture and the excellent acting won me over, and I
was able to ignore the morals issue. I do recommend CARRINGTON to the
adventuresome moviegoer, and I give it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes