Cousins [1989]

Genre: Comedy, Romance
Helen Mirren's career may have reached a late peak with her acclaimed performance in The Queen, but her talent flourished just as powerfully in the 1971 British mini-series of Honore de Balzac's classic novel of revenge, Cousin Bette. When Bette (Margaret Tyzack, I, Claudius), the poor cousin of a wealthy family, finds her one passion betrayed by her relatives, she seeks a fierce and relentless revenge. Her instrument is the young and luscious Valerie (Mirren, Prime Suspect, Gosford Park), whose seductive ways bring the family to ruin. Both Mirren and Tyzack are phenomenal as the scheming pair, but fans of Mirren will particularly delight in her astonishing coifs, ample cleavage, and smoldering looks--Cousin Bette came during the height of Mirren's days as the sexpot of Stratford. The first episode (of five) lumbers as it lays out exposition, but with its second episode Cousin Bette plunges headlong into the dark side of human nature, the sinuous story full of dark humor, cunning twists, and truly ferocious performances. The British excel at literary adaptations and this is one of the juiciest. A must-see mini-series. --Bret Fetzer

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