Period dramas are not high up in the list of our favourite genres, but the quality of films like ‘Belle‘ shows that they can rise above the turgid, uninteresting trough that they often fall in to. The hope was that ‘Effie Gray’ would do something similar, allowing us to get invested and interested in its characters and their stories and plight, but despite a strong cast and Emma Thompson helming the screenplay, it’s sad to say that it doesn’t manage that, falling in to the trough of turgidity without much of a fight.
Dakota Fanning has the lead role as the eponymous Effie Gray, whose marriage to the famous artist and writer John Ruskin, played by Greg Wise, ends up being a lot less exciting and loving than she expected. It’s a story well known both to fans of Ruskin’s work and those interested in the Victorian era, and there’s enough material there for us to get suitably interested, but other than some larger than life performances by Emma Thompson and Julie Walters we don’t really get much other than some increasingly dull interactions between the main characters to work with. As the love triangle starts to develop with Ruskin’s fellow painter John Everett Millais as played by Tom Sturridge, it never really elevates above that mundane level, and indeed the interactions between Millais and Gray don’t particularly feel like they’re two people who are slowly falling in love at all.
Despite these shortcomings, the cinematography is one aspect of the film that’s flawless. Every frame of Andrew Dunn’s camera work is brilliant to look at, full of shimmering lakes and majestic buildings filmed to glean the best possible visual effects out of them. The fact it’s so nice to look at does negate a little bit of the tedium that the general plot creates, but not enough to get us through the next mundane conversation.
The problem with ‘Effie Gray’ is that it doesn’t dig deep enough in to its characters for us to truly connect, merely leaving us on the outside and hoping we’ll fall in to the story. This doesn’t work, and despite hearty performances by the likes of Fanning it never feels anything more than caricatures of characters and their healf-hearted love stories. Unfortunately for a film championed and indeed written by the great Emma Thompson, it’s uncharacteristically ordinary and forgettable fare. Just go watch ‘Belle’.
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