This is a film about the life and times of T. S. Eliot during his time of involvement with his socially privileged wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood. It starts off at around the start of WWI and follows through until WWII. The film centrally depicts Vivienne's long-term illness which involved hormonal difficulties along with resulting irrational behaviour and control, and Eliot's integration into her life and the world of her upper-class family.
The setting is London and England where Eliot was developing his art as a poet alongside his friend and philosopher, Bertrand Russell. The film depicts his rise to fame and shift from American immigrant with nothing but an education, to man about town and sought after literary commodity and artist.
As I understand it, the film reflects a level of truth regarding the facts presented and story told. It's an uneasy ride because of the empathy that the viewer feels for all parties involved. Because of the failings of science and medicine to fix things soon enough for Vivienne, everyone's running round in circles dealing with the fallout.
Willem Dafoe plays Tom as a dour, dull, thoughtful, quiet and pensive man. How accurate that is, I don't know, but it certainly highlights the difference and contrasts with the outrageous Viv significantly. Viv is played by Miranda Richardson who utterly steals the show and demonstrates once again what a wonderful actor she is. She depicts the ups and downs of Viv's behaviour, control and interaction with her family quite brilliantly. The harrowing plight of the woman herself, out of control and demonised by her own body is captivating.
The actors round the two leads do a fine job. Rosemary Harris as Viv's mother, Tim Dutton as her brother and Nickolas Grace as Russell. The execution smells of a Merchant Ivory production in many ways, which is a good thing in my book. It leaves the viewer feeling as though they've actually taken in a real slice of history, learnt something and understood a bit more about how life had been difficult for people in the past.
The direction is handled by Brian Gilbert very sensitively and photography shot beautifully, even though most sets are internal and between the players. The costume and attention to detail for the period has been grasped well and the music, often the haunting use of the unaccompanied slow-paced piano, is worth pursuing alone.
As you may have realised by now, I thoroughly recommend this film. Sometimes it's a little slow, but never is it short of interest, good acting, lovely music and quality visuals.
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