|©1997-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
While it is something that dates back to the days of silent films (think
Chaplin), it seems almost de rigeur now for actors to move into other areas of
film making, becoming what has been termed a "hyphenate". Actor Alan
Rickman added lyricist, screenwriter and director to his credits with his debut
film THE WINTER GUEST. Best known for his villainous turns in DIE HARD,
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and the HARRY POTTER series,
Rickman has also played his share of nice guys, chiefly in TRULY MADLY
DEEPLY and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.
Rickman and this material have a long history. While appearing on stage
in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, his co-star Lindsay Duncan described the semi-
comic, semi-tragic problems of dealing with her elderly and infirm mother.
Rickman felt there was something inherently dramatic in the material and
commissioned writer Sharman Macdonald (mother of Keira Knightley) to
fashion a stage play. The result was The Winter Guest which debuted in
1995 with Phyllida Law and was directed by Rickman. The actor then decided
to adapt the material to film and hit on the grand notion of hiring Law and
her daughter Emma Thompson to play mother and daughter for the first time
on the big screen.
THE WINTER GUEST is a character-driven piece set in Scotland on the
coldest day of the winter — so cold that the sea has actually frozen — and
which mirrors the frozen lives of the people portrayed. We are introduced to
four sets of pairings: two elderly women whose raison d'etre is attending
funerals of people they don't know; two schoolboys who have decided to play
hooky from school; a rather brazen teenage girl and the object of her crush;
and the boy's grandmother and mother. The latter (played by Thompson) is a
photographer grieving over the recent death of her husband. Over the course
of the film, each will be profoundly changed; some by simple means; others
on a deeper more spiritual level.
Part of the fascination and success of the movie is watching the events
unfold. Like many actors-turned directors, Rickman allows his cast their
moments and the performances are nearly perfect. Surprisingly, the weak link
is Emma Thompson. Despite bravely adopting a masculine persona for her
Frances (evidenced by her mannish haircut and butch attitude), she seems
miscast as the grieving artist, as if she's playing at rather than inhabiting her
character. Her Scottish accent is inconsistent and there is an embarrassing
moment when her character breaks down in tears that Rickman allowed to go
on too long.
Yet, when she is acting opposite Law, there is magic. Their off-screen
relationship carries through; there is an intimacy between them that could
not be manufactured. Mention should also be made of the other actors.
Veterans Sandra Voe and Sheila Reid provide sublime moments of comedy
and a heart-breaking moment of tenderness as the older connoisseurs of
funerals. Newcomers Garry Hollywood and Arlene Cockburn as Frances' son
and the girl who tries to seduce him are fine, negotiating a pas de deux of
sexual tension. And as the schoolboys, young Douglas Murphy and Sean
Biggerstaff show promise.
THE WINTER GUEST will not be for everyone. It lacks car chases and big
special effects (although some of the look of the film was created digitally).
It is a quiet story that examines issues of loss, death and unexpressed
emotions is a powerful and moving manner. Alan Rickman has made a strong
directorial debut; the audience like the characters in the film undergo a sea
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sensuality
Running time: 108 mins.