Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Carrying On: "Carrington" (1995)



A young female artist falls in love with a known homosexual and the two spend their remaining years in each other's lives. No, this is not a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts, but "Carrington" is an emotional drama that is a triumph for Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, and less than perfect for writer/director Christopher Hampton.

The film is good. It takes place in the years 1914-1932 in England. Thompson is Dora Carrington, a troubled artist who falls for homosexual writer Lytton Strachey, played by Pryce. Strachey is a bit of a dramatic, suffering from "old age" and other infirmities, although he would be considered a young man. Strachey is first attracted to Carrington, thinking she is a young man thanks to her pageboy haircut and lack of makeup.

The two fall in love the only way they can: unphysically. They share a bed, but have no real sexual relationship and pursue the kind of physical love they cannot find with each other. Virgin Carrington falls for an angry artist who cannot understand their four year relationship with no sex. She is simply not attracted to his body, but gives in anyway, finding she does not enjoy sex anyway. She breaks it off with him, using her impending cohabitation with Strachey as a reason. She then brings home uptight army soldier Ralph, played by Steven Waddington. He is a man's man who does not understand all these artists and conscientious objectors (to WWI), but beds Carrington and, the film implies, Strachey. Ralph and Carrington marry and Ralph brings home friend Gerald for Strachey to "get to know." Gerald then suddenly falls in love with Carrington. The two have an affair. Strachey finds and loves a younger man named Roger, and Carrington dumps Gerald, later finding a guy with a boat who really likes his sex on the high seas. Ironically, he is not sexually attracted to Carrington, the very reason she broke up with the angry young artist. Strachey and Carrington end up back together in their strange living arrangement, and both meet their sad fates.

Thompson and Pryce are so good here it hurts. The main problem I had was with Hampton's choice of subject matter. He based the film on a book about Strachey, titled the film after Carrington, and I kept noticing a real lack of focus as to the film's main character. Hampton also writes Strachey like he is a poor man's Oscar Wilde, coming up with pithy sayings in between heartbreaks. Carrington comes across as flighty and confused, but we do not see how disturbed she is until after Strachey's death, and Hampton could have elaborated on that a little more. More scenes about Carrington and Strachey's work might have helped as well. The two hour movie feels like compressed images from a long running soap opera. Why should the viewer care so much about these characters?

Hampton the director is wonderful. In one scene, Carrington sits on a stump and, through a giant bank of windows, watches her husband and his live-in mistress, Carrington's own new lover, and Strachey and Roger, all getting ready for bed. Hampton keeps the scene sad without becoming voyeuristic, as Carrington seems to be silently questioning all these men who have brought her to this place in time. Carrington's death is also handled tactfully.

I would recommend "Carrington," but with the reservations about the script. I definitely would recommend it on the performances alone, if nothing else. (* * * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Carrington