Governess [1998]

Director: Sandra Goldbacher
Stars: Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Florence Hoath, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Harriet Walter
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 115 minutes

Minnie Driver stars as an impoverished Jewish woman, Mary, living in an emphatically anti-Semitic England in the mid-19th century. Following the murder of her beloved father--who leaves his survivors strapped with his debts--she camouflages her identity as a Protestant of Italian descent and takes a job as governess to an unorthodox Scottish family. In this film by Sandra Goldbacher, sundry conventions from Victorian novels mix with a contemporary, feminist take on Mary's subsequent adventures. Mary asserts, with some effort, her authority over her willful charge (Florence Hoath); she dodges the insults of a vaguely ghoulish matriarch (Harriet Walter); and she becomes an aide, confidante, and lover to the man of the house (Tom Wilkinson), a naturalist dabbling with early experiments in photography. Goldbacher fails to make it all feel as fully realized as it could be (much of the detail and soul of Mary's life in London is too telescoped and impressionistic to sink in). But the film's middle section, in which the heroine's complicity with Wilkinson's married character engages her keen intelligence as well as her untapped sensuality, is deeply felt. It's nice to see Driver prove she can carry a film, though the dreamy, exotic photography by Ashley Rowe certainly pulls a viewer along as well. --Tom Keogh

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