|© 2005-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted from Patrick McGrath’s novel by playwright and
screenwriter Patrick Marber, ASYLUM plays as throwback to a certain
type of women’s film that was popular in the 1950s and early 60s.
Indeed, if this movie had been in the mid to late 60s's, undoubtedly
Vanessa Redgrave would have been sought to portray the lead role. So
it perhaps may be appropriate that her daughter Natasha Richardson
has been cast as Stella Raphael, a depressed woman in a loveless
marriage who is ripe for – well, for something.
Stella, her husband Max (Hugh Bonneville) and their young son
arrive at the titular establishment outside London. It’s the early 1960s
and Stella doesn’t quite fit in with the other doctors’ wives. Not only is
she about a decade or more younger, she is also high-strung. She’s a
misfit and is clearly recognized as such by one of her husband’s
colleagues, the oleaginous Dr. Peter Cleve (Ian McKellen). Stella soons
finds herself attracted to one of Cleve’s patients, the brooding Edgar
(Marton Csokas), with whom she eventually begins an affair. Edgar, of
course, has a history: he was a promising sculptor who bludgeoned his
wife to death and was deemed mentally unstable at trial and sentenced
to imprisonment in a mental institution.
Stella’s affair with Edgar eventually provides him with a means of
escape and soon the bored housewife has abandoned her family to take
up with her paramour in a seamy London neighborhood. When she is
tracked down by the police, Stella is welcomed back by her cuckold
of a husband. She makes a vow never to see Edgar again. Of course,
since the film is only about half over, the audience knows that won’t be
the case. In case this interests you, I won’t bother to go into the nitty
gritty plot details. Let’s just say that there’s the inevitable tragedy, a
couple of twists and a not-so-surprise ending.
Director David Mackenzie also helmed YOUNG ADAM which dealt
with another women obsessed with a possibly dangerous man. That film
was a little more claustrophobic than this, but both share similar
themes. Mackenzie is a good director of actors, but then, when you are
working with people of the caliber of Ewen McGregor and Tilda Swinton
(in YOUNG ADAM), and Ian McKellen, Natasha Richardson and Marton
Csokas, not to mention an underutilized Judy Parfitt, you pretty much
can’t go too far astray. Marber’s screenplay is passable but the
material, despite its flashes of nudity and sexual situations, seems very
old-fashioned, and not necessarily in a good way.
ASYLUM came heavily recommended by a colleague, so I went to it
with expectations of seeing something above average; that I was
disappointed is more my own fault.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, some
violence and brief language
Running time: 99 mins.
Viewed at the Regal Union Square Theater