Gloomy Roomies

Sometimes it's difficult to decide which is more annoying--a fluffy Brit period piece or a depressing Brit period piece.

Carrington, to its credit, isn't fluff. It's a tough, solid piece of work, intelligently written and directed by Christopher Hampton. It's also excellently acted. In most respects, it's hard to fault.

But it's frightfully depressing, in that way that leaves you wondering how, exactly, you were supposed to be enriched by the experience.

Emma Thompson plays Dora Carrington (who preferred to be called by her last name), a painter in England from the World War I era through the 1920s. The film dramatizes her lifelong love for, and cohabitation with, Giles Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce), the writer and critic who, with such works as Eminent Victorians, Queen Victoria and Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History, invented a new, ironic style of English biography.

Carrington met the significantly older Strachey just before the war, and, by the time Eminent Victorians was published, they were living together. But Strachey was inaccessible to Carrington romantically because he was gay. Eventually, sheentered into a more-or-less open marriage witha handsome young fellow named Ralph Partridge, mainly because Strachey found him attractive. This curious domestic arrangement continued, off and on, for almost two decades, and, in some respects, it seemed fairly agreeable, but it ended sadly.

This film is infinitely better than Total Eclipse, Agnieszka Holland's filming of a Hampton script romanticizing the hateful, drunken loutishness of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine just because they happened to be fine poets. Hampton may feel more than a little streak of romanticism toward the characters in Carrington, as well--unflinching though he is, he may buy into Carrington's obsessive fixation for Strachey. Pryce's wistful, reflectively witty portrait of the author makes it easy to see how such feelings could take hold.

But Thompson's performance keeps the film honest, if not fun. Her pinched, wary Dora Carrington truly loves Strachey (and vice versa). But, in Thompson's interpretation, Carrington builds her life around Strachey simply because of a frightened distaste for sex. If she had sexual feelings for Strachey, they were largely occasioned by his lack of feelings for her. A character that a lesser actress might have played as a grand, incurable romantic, Thompson plays as the most persistent fag hag in the history of English letters.--M. V. Moorhead

Directed by Christopher Hampton; with Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce.


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