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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Carrington

Starring: Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Christopher Hampton
Rated: R
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: November 1995
Genres: Drama, Romance, Gay/Lesbian

*Also starring: Steven Waddington, Samuel West, Rufus Sewell, Penelope Wilton, Janet McTeer, Peter Blythe, Jeremy Northam, Alex Kingston

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Pedro Sena read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Dragan Antulov read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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 for Lytton.

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

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