Synopsis: Set in a time when neither divorce, nor gay marriage were an option, EFFIE GRAY is the story of a young woman coming of age, finding her own voice in a world where women were expected to be seen but not heard. EFFIE GRAY explores the roots of sexual intolerance, which continue to have a stronghold today, while shedding light on the marital politics of the Victorian Era.
Release Date: April 3, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Oscar winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson (Howard’s End, Sense and Sensibility) has practiced up her writing craft by adapting the works of Jane Austen and Christianna Brand for the screen. For her first original screenplay, she finds inspiration in the real-life Victorian England story of Effie Gray.
Effie Gray stars Dakota Fanning (The Runaways) as the titular Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray, a young woman who has agreed to marry a rich and successful art critic and benefactor named John Ruskin (Blackwood‘s Greg Wise). The marriage helps Effie’s social standing, but at a cost; not only did she marry a cruel and emotionally neglectful man, but she also seems to have married his parents (played by David Suchet from “Agatha Christie: Poirot” and Julie Waters from Paddington), a couple who have a hand and say in everything that the man does. Effie does find a confidante in her husband’s colleague’s wife, a woman named Lady Elizabeth Eastlake (Thompson), and even meets a kindred spirit in one of her husband’s painter protégés, a young man named Everett Millais (On the Road‘s Tom Sturridge), but ultimately, it is up to her to get out of her unhappy and unfulfilling marriage during a time in history when divorce was not an option.
Directed by Richard Laxton (“Him and Her”), Effie Gray suffers from the same affliction as many other period-piece movies. Mainly, it’s incessantly boring. It can be classified as a character study, but that’s just a nice way of saying that nothing much happens over the course of the movie. There’s a lot of banal conversation, a bunch of pretentious lecturing, and a few doses of heavy reflection, but those are all just ways of saying that the characters talk a lot. There are a handful of interesting and entertaining moments, but even they are ruined by the characters explaining in detail exactly what’s going on. Between hints of homosexuality, incest, disease, and unfaithfulness, there are plot elements that should be able to shock the viewer. Unfortunately, they don’t. It’s just another stodgy love-triangle movie with thick accents and exquisite costuming.
Because Effie Gray is a very character-based film, the characters are pretty well-developed. The character of Effie in particular is a highly sympathetic one. She’s got allies and friends, but there’s a real sense of hopelessness and isolation in her situation. She struggles hard to find her place in the marriage, but she and John want completely different things. Victorian England tended to side with the husband, so Effie seems lost and alone. In one scene, Effie is mending clothing when her mother-in-law comes in and says “you forget who you are.” At first, Effie takes it as an observation – she’s forgetting that she is the lady of the house. After Mrs. Ruskin repeats it, Effie realizes that it is a command; the woman is telling Effie to let go of her past and be a wife to her husband. This little piece of subtext provides the most powerful moment in the film, the point where Effie understands exactly what she has lost by marrying John Ruskin.
Fans of long-winded, beautifully shot Victorian-era period films will go crazy for Effie Gray. For those who like a little bit of action or drama in their movies, it won’t offer much satisfaction. There’s an audience for Effie Gray, provided they can stay awake long enough to realize it.
For as lackluster as the story is, Effie Gray looks stunning. The film was shot by experienced cinematographer Andrew Dunn (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), who pays painstaking amounts of attention to the most minute details, making every single camera setup look like a painting or drawing from the time period. Each frame of the film is meticulously composed, using leading lines and symmetry to draw the viewer’s eye right to what’s important in the shot. The film is a period piece, so the lighting has got to be effective, and Dunn makes every scene look as if it’s lit by natural, directional lighting sources, even if he uses artificial means to do it. The external locations are wonderful as well, with the film being shot in parts of the Scottish Highlands, in London, and in Venice, giving the film an authentic look and feel. Effie Gray is another of those films that is packed with style over substance; it’s got a long and tedious story, but at least Andrew Dunn’s photography makes it look pretty.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Richard Laxton
- Producer(s): Andreas RoaldDonald Rosenfeld
- Screenwriter(s): Emma Thompson
- Cast: Dakota FanningEmma ThompsonGreg Wise David SuchetJulie WaltersTom SturridgeJames FoxRussell Tovey
- Editor(s): Kate Williams
- Cinematographer: Andrew Dunn
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
- Casting Director(s): Celestia FOx
- Music Score: Paul Cantelon
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: UK