Quiz Show 1994 Based on Richard N. Goodwin’s 1988 memoir Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties. Produced and Directed by Robert Redford. When the popularity of Herb Stemple’s (John Turturo), successive winner of the popular quiz show Twenty -One wanes, producers Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria) jump at the chance to replace him with Columbia University Professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Feinnes), a patrician, blue-eyed boy. (Stemple is promised a future in television that never materializes.) Van Doren does well, but caving in to pressure, agrees to be fed answers.
Meanwhile, booted out, Stempel threatens NBC giving rise to investigation. Who testifies to what, consequences, and the lack thereof make up the meat of the well executed film. Artistic license telescoped three years of scandal into one and took additional liberties. Overall themes of loss of innocence/ amorality, the corruption of business and power ring clarion. Also with Paul Scofield, Rob Morrow, Griffin Dunne, and cameos by filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The English Patient 1996 Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje. A romantic war drama. Nine Academy Awards including Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Juliet Binoche. In the last days of WWII, four people find themselves sheltering at a bombed-out Italian monastery. French-Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliet Binoche), is taking care of her dying patient, Almásy (Ralph Fiennes), who speaks English but has amnesia. Also in “residence” are Kip (Naveen Andrews) a Sikh sapper (military engineering expert) in the British Army who has been tortured, and suspicious David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), of the Canadian Intelligence Corps.
Almásy, a Hungarian cartographer, recalls a past which centers on the tragic love story of him and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas). Hana and Kip embark on a tenuous romance. Long winded, but powerful. Terrific cinematography. Also with Colin Firth, Jurgen Prochnow. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Oscar and Lucinda 1997 Based on The Booker Prize winning novel by Peter Carey. Directed by Gillian Armstrong. Original. Fantastical. Australian Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett) develops a childhood obsession with glass. When her parents die, she uses part of a sizeable inheritance to buy a glass factory. In hopes of encouraging r & r, her accountant introduces her to gambling, and Lucinda gets hooked. Oscar (Ralph Feinnes), training for the Anglican ministry, is also a (mostly successful) gambler. The two meet on a boat to New South Wales. Oscar loses everything and goes to work for Lucinda.
Inspired by a model and proving what the factory can do, Oscar and Lucinda create a full size, one room church for mutual friend Revered Dennis Hasset (Ciaran Hinds). As Oscar is afraid of water, it must be delivered overland until the last leg. The protagonists bet their inheritances against one another that the edifice can be delivered by Good Friday. Leading Oscar on the journey, Mr. Jeffries (Richard Roxburgh) turns out to be violent and mercenary. The denoument and finale are inspired as are Oscar winning visuals. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Bernard and Doris 2006 Directed by Bob Balaban. The semi-fictional story of a deep relationship that developed later in life between socialite heiress Doris Duke and her Irish butler Bernard Lafferty. In 1987, Duke (Susan Sarandon) hires Lafferty (Ralph Feinnes) – secretly just out of alcohol rehab-to be her estate majordomo. He’s imperious with staff and dedicated to his dismissive employer. When Duke returns from cosmetic surgery on opiates, he takes care of her establishing a bond that flowers. Though she has successive lovers and he prefers men, the two become as intimate as they can be otherwise.
Lafferty takes to her lavish lifestyle as if born to it, but the more relaxed he becomes, the more drinking reenters his life. Duke sends him to rehab and welcomes his return. Her lawyers question the butler’s control and motivation, especially when the heiress becomes ill. Coming into his authentic self, Lafferty reaps vast rewards when Duke passes. The question of whether he hastened her demise lingers. A well played, sympathetic evolution. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Reader 2008 Based on the German novel by Bernhard Schlink. Directed by Stephen Daldry. In 1958, 15 year-old Michael Berg (David Kloss) has an affair with the much older Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet – Best Actress Academy Award). She disappears. They meet again in the courtroom, he a lawyer (Ralph Feinnes), she brought up on charges of having been a Concentration Camp guard. Hanna is guarding a secret Michael is sure will ameliorate charges. Key evidence in the trial is the testimony of Ilana Mather (Alexandra Maria Lara) who describes how Hanna had women from the camp read to her in the evenings.
When the truth comes out, Hana is convicted of lesser crimes, but history takes its toll. To “age Hanna from seductress to imprisoned war criminal, Winslet endured seven and a half hours of makeup and prosthetic prep each day.” (Entertainment Weekly) Also with Lena Olin and Bruno Ganz. Compelling and restrained. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Invisible Woman 2013 Based on the biography by Claire Tomalin. Directed by Ralph Feinnes. About the secret 13 year love affair between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan which lasted until his death.
Forty-five-year-old Charles Dickens (Ralph Feinnes) notices 18 year-old actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) in a Haymarket production. He casts her in a play at his own theater and pursues a relationship with the young woman and her widowed mother (Kristen Scott Thomas). Dickens facilitates excursions. As his wife has little energy or interest in literary matters, Dickens and Nelly grow close. Mrs. Ternan warns the author about compromising her daughter’s reputation. Dickens and Nelly become lovers, partly in France beyond prying eyes. Nelly gets pregnant. Their lives go on outwardly as the era demands with clandestine meetings until his passing.
Fiennes initially approached another actor to play the role of Dickens but it did not work out and he eventually played the part. A tad slow, but well calibrated and delicate in depiction of the mostly obscure relationship. Very evocative of its period. Also featuring Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan, Perdita Weeks.Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Grand Budapest Hotel 2014 Written and Directed by Wes Anderson. Best Production and Costume Design Academy Awards. Wildly imaginative. Wonderful fun. Wistfully told in flashback by the owner of the now-decrepit Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who began as the resort’s lobby boy (Tony Revolori).
In the hotel’s glory days (manifestation is marvelous), Concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Feinnes), is framed by her family for the murder of wealthy dowager Madame D (Tilda Swinton) one of several, devoted, old women he sexually serviced when in residence. Discovering Madame left Gustav a valuable Renaissance painting with which the family is unwilling to part, he and the lobby boy steal the work. Gustav is imprisoned and aided in escape by Zero’s lover and a gang he befriends while incarcerated. He and Zero set out to prove his innocence. There’s a chase segment like you’ve never seen.
The art turns out to be only part of the hidden legacy Gustav inherits. A seventeen-actor ensemble, many of whom were regulars in Anderson’s films, received star billing. This includes, in part: Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, Harvey Kietel, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, and Jude Law. Apparently inspired by Anderson’s reading of Stephan Zweig. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Dig 2021 Based on the novel by John Preston. The film reimagines events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, England, the site of two medieval cemeteries whose exploration continues to this day. With Ralph Feinnes, Carey Mulligan, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin. Premieres on Netflix January 29, 2021.
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