HOWARDS END. (1992) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

HOWARDS END. (1992) BASED ON THE BOOK BY E.M. FORSTER. DIRECTED BY JAMES IVORY. PRODUCED BY ISMAIL MERCHANT. SCREENPLAY BY RUTH PRAWER JHABVALA.

STARRING EMMA THOMPSON, HELENA BONHAM-CARTER, ANTHONY HOPKINS, VANESSA REDGRAVE, JAMES WILBY, PRUNELLA SCALES, JAMES WILBY, SIMON CALLOW, NICOLA DUFFETT, SAMUEL WEST, PETER CELLIER AND CRISPIN BONHAM-CARTER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This iconic period drama was the perfect viewing choice for Mother’s Day. Filled with fabulous elaborate hairstyles, huge, even more elaborate hats, gorgeous dresses and magnificent old houses with eye-popping gardens and surrounds, it seems to glide its way sedately from its beginning to its conclusion, with occasional hiccups caused by the hidden passions simmering beneath the breasts of the characters.

It starts off in Edwardian England (1901- 1910; after Victoria!) with Helena Bonham-Carter, whose hair was surely born to play this type of role, portraying the younger of two respectable orphaned sisters, the Misses Schlegel (she’s Helen!).

Helen and her older sister, Margaret, live quietly and genteelly together in a London apartment with their somewhat delicate younger brother, Tibby. They have German antecedents and are deeply intellectual and enthusiastic about all things cultural. They are not rich, but they are comfortably off and do not need to work.

When we first see Helen, she’s making, then breaking, an engagement to Paul Wilcox, whose father, Anthony Hopkins as Henry Wilcox, is a millionaire. Helen’s older sister, Margaret, beautifully played by Emma Thompson, later befriends Henry Wilcox’s invalid wife, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), as the Wilcoxes have leased a flat across from the Schlegels.

Ruth Wilcox comes to grow very fond of the chatty younger woman who brightens her declining days. When she hears that the Schlegel sisters will soon be homeless due to an expiring lease, she leaves a house she owns, the beautiful and charming Howards End, to Margaret Schlegel in her will.

Margaret never gets to hear about it, however, as the Wilcox family, horrified by Ruth’s leaving family property to an ‘outsider,’ close ranks and burn the piece of paper on which the dead woman’s last wish is scribbled in her dying hand. And that, as far as the Wilcoxes are concerned, is that. And yet, oh, what a complex web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…!

The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels, it seems, are meant to have their destinies entwined. When a smitten Henry Wilcox proposes marriage to Margaret, she accepts immediately. But Henry is keeping secrets from Margaret, and not just the one about how he and his family have deliberately kept her rightful inheritance, Howards End, from her. Will loose lips sink those bobbing ships, or will Margaret remain blissfully oblivious…?

Helen, meanwhile, an intellectual blue-stocking who will probably end up chained to the railings of the Houses of Parliament for the woman’s right to vote or being force-fed in the infirmary of a women’s prison for the same cause, has befriended a lowly clerk called Leonard Bast. Leonard, married to Jacky (of dubious background but with a heart of gold) is anxious to improve his circumstances in life, along with his mind.

With a little help from posh, self-important millionaire toff Henry Wilcox, Helen and Margaret, two do-gooders always ready to meddle in the affairs of the lower classes, unintentionally cause poor Leonard Bast to become unemployed.

Desperate for work, he pounds the streets, but to no avail. He (not unnaturally) turns to Margaret, who is now engaged to Henry Wilcox, for help. But his and Jacky’s unexpected appearance at Evie Wilcox’s posh society wedding sets off a chain of events that none of them could have foreseen…

The class difference, and the emphasis on class, is so obvious it runs like a steam choo-choo throughout the film. The notion of the two Basts starving to death in their meagre flat because two nosy, meddling self-indulgent do-gooders with a romanticised notion of poverty think they know best what Leonard should do in his career is just horrific.

And the notion that the sisters or even Henry Wilcox himself should help them is instantly dismissed as balderdash by Henry, because: ‘The poor are poor and that’s sad, but it’s just the way it is.’ Clearly, old Henry is unfamiliar with the notion that things can be improved if enough people try to improve them, and also that with great power comes great responsibility…

These Merchant-Ivory films are so dreamy, delicate, elegant and evocative of a certain era and a certain type of Englishness, I always feel like I’m viewing them through a veil of the finest mist and time.

The two lads, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, made forty-four films together, twenty-three of which were scripted by the German-born Jewish writer, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose works they favoured, along with the writings of Henry James and E.M. Forster, who penned HOWARDS’ END in 2010.

Here are a few of the faces you might expect to see in a Merchant-Ivory production: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth (I say, is it raining men again?), Maggie Smith, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Natasha Richardson and Ralph Fiennes, as well as Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, who went on to star in the sublimely beautiful movie THE REMAINS OF THE DAY in 1993. Helena Bonham-Carter herself had her own breakthrough hit in the Merchant-Ivory production of A ROOM WITH A VIEW in 1985.

Anyway, HOWARDS’ END is a gorgeous, luxurious film filled with flowers and rolling acres of greenland and the most splendid hats and female accessories and accoutrements. A good shawl was an investment for life in those days. Must dig mine out and start wearing it again. Who knows, I might start a trend…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

GIRL, INTERRUPTED. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

GIRL, INTERRUPTED. (1999) BASED ON THE 1993 MEMOIR BY SUSANNA KAYSEN. DIRECTED BY JAMES MANGOLD.

STARRING WINONA RYDER, ANGELINA JOLIE, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, VANESSA REDGRAVE, JARED LETO, CLEA DUVALL, BRITTANY MURPHY AND JILLIAN ARMENANTE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Do not drop anchor here.’

‘Susanna, you’re hurting everyone around you!’

‘No-one cares if you die, Lisa. You’re already dead!’

‘Because I don’t want to kill myself, that’s not cool to you…?’

‘I’m curious as to why I should have to be in a mental institution, Melvin.’

‘Here’s a piece of advice, lady. Don’t wag your finger at fucking crazy people!’

I don’t really know what blokes would think of this girlie movie, but it’s been on my list of favourite films ever since I actually saw it on the big screen early on in the year 2000. It was my first time ever clapping eyes on Angelina Jolie and I was completely mesmerised by her stunning ‘LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’ performance.

I’ve never cared much for Winona Ryder, thinking her too moo-cow-eyed, drippy, wishy-washy and mopey-faced, and in this film she’s surely at her mopiest ever playing Susanna Kaysen, the writer of the memoir on which the film is based, but Angelina Jolie, mon Dieu! She steals every scene she’s in as the beautiful, charismatic, dangerous, damaged and unpredictable sociopath Lisa Rowe. Susanna is drawn to her like a moth to a flame, and truly, so was I, lol.   

I should explain. It’s the late ‘Sixties in America. Susanna Kaysen has ‘the distinction of being the only girl in her year at school not going on to college.’ That’s because, although she knows she wants to write, she has no idea of what she wants to ‘do,’ because of course writing is not a proper job or course of action for a young woman on the cusp of life, according to the adults in her life. Grrr.

After having a disastrous affair with a college professor, constantly self-harming and attempting suicide, Susanna is packed off, more or less against her will, to a mental institution called Claymoore for a so-called ‘rest’ of two weeks, which turns into a stay of one whole year.

She has a diagnosis of ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ slapped on her, something of a nothing diagnosis if you ask me. Far be it from me to say that this mental disorder or that one doesn’t really exist, but it just seems like a mish-mash of all the feelings young women tend to normally have in late adolescence anyway, feelings like insecurity, fear of abandonment, fear of never finding the perfect relationship or partner, stuff like that.

Susanna quickly becomes as badly-behaved and self-indulgent as the other brats in her ward. Whoopi Goldberg as the sensible Nurse Valerie- ‘two kids and one bathroom’- doesn’t tolerate her nonsense for a second.

She tells Susanna that she has so much going for her that it would be criminal for her to just get comfortable with the ‘crazy’ label and lie down under it. It takes a while for Susanna to work out that Nurse Valerie is spot on when she advises Susanna: ‘Do not drop anchor here.’

Brittany Murphy, who died tragically young a mere decade after making this film, is superb as the poor Daisy Randone, a sexually abused young woman with an eating disorder and a fast pass to self-destruction. Angelina Jolie’s Lisa is horrible to her and selfishly, almost for fun, gives her that extra push she needs to step off the edge of the world completely. It’s a really sad storyline.

Jared Leto plays the handsome Toby, who’s terrified of being sent to Vietnam (well, I don’t really blame him for that, do you?) so he asks Susanna to run away with him just as company for himself, the little gurrier.

Vanessa Redgrave is suitably superior and ivory-tower-ish as the Great and Powerful Dr. Wick, head shrink at Claymoore. I’m not sure how in touch with the real world and the patients she is, though, up there in her lovely office with her dictionaries and her fancy Latin words.  

Again, though, Angelina Jolie, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lisa, just steals every scene she’s in and is so infinitely watchable as the too-cool-for-school ‘lifer’ who, under her tough, prickly smart-mouth exterior is just crying out to be loved.

And not just the love of a man for a damaged, broken but still sexually desirable little girl, either. She’s had plenty of that, it would seem, but she’s probably never known the genuine affection of one human being for another, and that’s really sad too.

A pretty cool ‘Sixties soundtrack accompanies the scenes of Susanna and her pals at Claymoore running amok in their nice safe sanitarium for- mostly- the daughters of rich folks who can afford to pay to have their problems kept neatly out of sight for a while.

This is mine and my daughter’s favourite girlie film, along with White Oleander, Sleeping with the Enemy, Tina Turner: What’s Love got to do with it?, Erin Brokovich and Gorillas in the Mist.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure what guys will think of the film but, as a woman who was probably just as angsty and as prone to navel-gazing and endless introspection as Susanna Kaysen when I was seventeen (in all fairness, isn’t that what your late teens are supposed to be for, anyway?), I bloody love it. That’s about it, really.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

THE DEVILS. (1971) KEN RUSSELL’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

devils 2 leads

THE DEVILS. (1971) PARTLY ADAPTED FROM ALDOUS HUXLEY’S 1952 NON-FICTION BOOK ‘THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN’ AND PARTLY ADAPTED FROM THE 1960 PLAY ‘THE DEVILS’ BY JOHN WHITING.

DIRECTED BY KEN RUSSELL. SETS BY DEREK JARMAN. SCORE BY SIR PETER MAXWELL.

STARRING OLIVER REED, VANESSA REDGRAVE, DUDLEY SUTTON, GEMMA JONES, GEORGINA HALE, MURRAY MELVIN, MICHAEL GOTHARD, CHRISTOPHER LOGUE AND GRAHAM ARMITAGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such an incredibly intense film that I generally find I’m holding my breath practically the whole way through it, even though such a feat probably isn’t medically possible. It’s like an assault on the senses, with the fantastic period costumes, the disconcerting (excuse the pun) musical score and the way that, just when you think director Ken Russell surely can’t go any further, he then goes and does exactly that.

The story is set in France in the seventeenth century, and it’s based on actual events, which would kind of blow your mind to think about it. It features Oliver Reed in one of his finest roles. He plays Father Urbain Grandier, chief cleric in the heavily walled town of Loudun. He’s a rogue of a priest who unwittingly becomes the centre of one of the biggest witchcraft cases France has ever known.

He’s a womanising lecher of a priest, who has sex with and even impregnates his prettier female parishioners, then he abdicates all responsibility towards them. ‘And so it ends.’ Then he meets the rather plain, ordinary Madeleine, whose mother has just died horribly from the plague that runs rife through France, and he decides he’s in love, real pure love, for the first time in his whole decadent, dissolute life.

If he were just an ordinary womanising priest, I don’t suppose it would have become much of an issue in seventeenth century France. But Grandier was somewhat of a controversial figure politically as well, even though religion and politics supposedly don’t mix very well. Here’s the deal as I’ve interpreted it.

Cardinal Richelieu at the time wanted to knock down the heavy fortifications of Loudun, and thereby put a stop to its system of independent government and the possibility of a Protestant uprising.

He wanted Loudun and other similarly-governed places to stop ruling themselves independently of the monarchy, and he felt that knocking down their fortifications and leaving them defenseless would accomplish this.

Father Grandier, however, refused to allow this to happen by getting the townspeople to stand firm against any such notion. He maintained that, in Loudun, Catholics and Protestants lived harmoniously side by side, without any pesky uprisings at all, and that they needed their fortifications to protect them from marauders. Moreover, the King himself had said that Loudun could keep her walls. So there, lol.

Therefore, Grandier was a big thorn in the side both of Cardinal Richelieu, and also of Baron de Laubardemont, the official he’s sent to Loudun to knock down the walls. They feel powerless to move against Grandier, who’s so popular in the town. What they need is to get rid of him, but how? Then into their laps lands the gift of a lifetime… a tailor-made excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome priest…

The lead female character, chillingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, head nun of the local convent. Poor Sister Jeanne. Her head is permanently to one side because of a dreadful hump on her back. She constantly shuffles about on her knees in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of the convent and this has the effect of making her personality seem as stunted, deformed and twisted as her physical person. I see her as a figure deserving of pity, yes, but a little creepy too.

Underneath the habit (and the hump), Sister Jeanne is a normal woman with normal, human lusts and sexual appetites. Sometimes these will out, even if you try your hardest to repress them. She has a huge crush on Father Grandier, whom she’s never seen, but the legend of the sexually dynamic and charismatic priest that precedes him wherever he goes is enough for her to hang her hopes on.

A perceived slight from the genuinely unwitting Father Grandier leads the horribly frustrated Sister Jeanne to accuse Grandier of a terrible crime. In comes the church’s leading exorcist, the handsome blonde could-easily-have-been-a-rock-star Father Barre, to get to the truth (let’s not say ‘the bottom,’ please!) of the shocking matter…

What follows is certainly shocking. The scenes of orgy and exorcism, torture and sheer brutality-for-brutality’s-sake are hard to watch. Father Barre believes in putting on a good show, and the farcical spectacle attracts viewers from all over France.

Father Mignon cuts a frightening figure all in black with his pudding bowl haircut, Baron de Laubardemont is in his element, strutting about the place shouting, and King Louis XIII is shown to be a disgustingly decadent and trivial character, with no more real feeling for his subjects than for one of the grapes peeled for him by his lackeys.

Underpinning it all is the magnificent performance of Oliver Reed as the poor tortured Father Grandier, who once played fast and loose with the feelings of all women, but who now believes he really, truly loves a woman, which love has brought him closer to God and shown him the meaning of love and life for the first time in his thirty-something years.

What he undergoes in the name of ‘Christ,’ no man deserves to go through. This film will stay in your mind for a long time after you watch it. And rightly so, because it’s surely Ken Russell’s and one of Britain’s finest.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com