The Last September

          The end of an era has often provided the historical backdrop for
  intimate drama, whether it was invoking sexual mores (
) or the collapse of a dynasty (THE LAST EMPEROR).
  Acclaimed stage director Deborah Warner makes an accomplished
  feature debut with
THE LAST SEPTEMBER, an adaptation of
  Elizabeth Bowen's novel charting the dissolution of the Anglo-Irish
  aristocracy in 1920s Ireland.

          Similar in feeling and texture to the unjustly neglected 1985 film
   THE SHOOTING PARTY (and even harking back to Renoir's masterpiece
  the manor house of Sir Richard Naylor (the peerless Michael Gambon)
  and his wife Myra (the inestimable Maggie Smith). Staying with them
  is their spirited niece Lois (relative newcomer Keeley Hawes) who is
  first glimpsed dancing in the verdant grounds with an army officer.
  The beauty Lois has the potential to be a heart-breaker and much of
  the plot revolves around the love triangle of her, an Irish republican
  rebel (Gary Lydon) and the British officer who fancies her (David Tennant).
  Bowen echoed those relationships in a similarly triangular one among
  the house guests at the Naylor manse. Marda (a superb Fiona Shaw),
  while pondering a proposal from a stockbroker she does not love,
  rekindles an old relationship with Hugo Montgomery (Lambert Wilson)
  whose flighty wife Francie (a fine Jane Birkin) appears oblivious but
  senses something afoot.

          That portentous feeling Francie possesses also wafts over others.
  The eccentric Sir Richard is cognizant of the coming social upheaval.
  He and Myra may consider themselves as Irish but to the locals and
  the rebels they are British. Like dinosaurs, they have outlived their
  usefulness and must somehow adapt or go extinct. Myra, on the other
  hand, is oblivious and concerns herself with her garden and with
  meddling in Lois' affairs, discouraging the army officer because he
  lacks money and position. Warner allows her talented cast to take
  things slowly and she has assembled a top notch team that has
  perfectly captured the autumnal feel of the piece.

          Special mention must be paid to John Bright's delicately crafted
  period clothes, Caroline Amies' exquisite production design, Zbignew
  Preisner's appropriate score and especially Slawomir Idziak's superlative
  photography. Under his lensing, the colors vibrate -- indeed he seems
  to have captured every shade of green imaginable. Warner is also
  an actor's director and her cast performs beautifully; there isn't a
  false note among them. Old pros like Gambon, Smith, Wilson, Birkin
  and Shaw all deliver fine portrayals but it is Hawes, with her gamine
   beauty, who earns the spotlight. Similarly Warner stakes her claim
  as a filmmaker to watch given her abilities to frame scenes and elicit
  terrific performances.

          THE LAST SEPTEMBER undoubtedly won't appeal to a mass
  audience but those who crave literate dialogue, stunning visuals and
  great acting should seek out this film and allow themselves to savor
  its multitude of pleasures.

                          Rating:                  B+
                          MPAA Rating:         R for some violence and sexuality
                          Running time:        103 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.