|Daily Variety|| 'LIFE" MEANDERS
My Life So Far (Period Family Drama, British, color, no rating, 1:33 running time)
by Todd McCarthy, Daily Variety Chief Film Critic
CANNES (Variety)--"My Life so Far" is an innocuous childhood memoir that only mildly evokes the special qualities of privileged life in between-the-wars Britain.
Shot two years ago and reportedly subjected to repeated recutting and tinkering since then, Hugh Hudson' first film in a decade emerges as an episodic, anecdotal affair of resolutely small moments, insights and charms. With no compelling selling points, this Miramax release world premiered in Cannes, outside the festival proper, as the lead-in to the AmFar benefit. It is scheduled for July opening Stateside but looks to come and go quickly.
Based on the autobiography of British TV executive and current Royal Opera House director Sir Denis Forman, the picture reunites Hudson ad producer David Puttnam on a story set in roughly the same period as "Chariots Of Fire." The film is dedicated to that film's late costar, Ian Charleson. but if a sense of discovery and drive energized that picture, "Life" has no urgency behind it at all, only a gentle nostalgia for a more innocent time when eccentricity and repressed passion ruled. At Harewood House, an architecturally bizarre castle in the Scottish Highlands, elderly Gamma Macintosh (Rosemary Harris) sternly presides over a clan that includes her daughter Moira (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the latter's oddball inventor husband Edward Pettigrew (Colin firth) and the couple's children, notably the 10-year-old Fraser (Robbie Norman), through whose eyes the events are seen.
Virtually overrun by kids and animals and
seemingly immune from the cares of everyday world, life at the estate is
enlivened by a constant stream of visitors; one day might bring a French
aviator ("the Emperor Of The Air," (Tcheky Karyo), landing his bi-plane
to impress Fraser's sister Elspeth (Kelly Macdonald), and another might
welcome Moira's hard-driving brother Morris (Malcolm McDowell), who brings
along his French fiancée Heloise (Irene Jacob), a lovely, sophisticated
young woman who turns every head in
An accomplished businessman, Morris scorns Edward's career dilettantism, which includes experimenting with flying machines and automobile prototypes and investigating the medicinal effects of sphagnum moss. The story's most potent thread is the allure Heloise has for the conservative, religiously strict Edward and for Fraser, who is utterly unschooled in sexual matters but becomes curious about the mysteries surrounding "sins of the flesh."
Because of the intense feelings she summons up, Heloise provokes a major rift among the adults in the family, while for Fraser she provides the predictable but nonetheless plausible catalyst for the onset of adulthood as well as for the transformation of his idealized view of his father.
As Hudson was raised in circumstances not that dissimilar from those enjoyed by the people onscreen, it's not surprising that a sympathetic affinity seeps through the genteel material. But it's a feeling that helps more in evoking a sense of time and place than in dramatizing the events or deepening the characters.
The film does impart a nice impression of what it must have been like to live far from the main currents of society and politics, where any outsider is welcomed as a connection, however tangential, to the more vital rest of the world.
Fraser's taste for jazz, and Louis Armstrong in particular, is impermissibly exotic and dangerous in the local context, and the fact that the estate is large enough to comprise a little universe unto itself suggests a melancholy apartness that deprives Fraser and his siblings as much as it blesses them.
But these small insights come and go without much dramatic shaping or effect, and while the climactic showdown between Edward and Morris is as tart as the finale, in which Edward silently acknowledges his son's new maturity, is effectively discreet, the pic's emotional power is decidedly muted.
The cast comports itself respectably, although
no one really gets a chance to develop a character. Firth, as the
father who's a personal conformist but a professional kook, takes the best
shot at it, but is somewhat
A strong visual style would have helped the film considerably but Bernard Lutic's lensing, which seems to be fighting murky weather much of the time, is largely dull. Other production values are pro.
Edward Pettigrew..................Colin Firth
A Miramax release presented in association
with the Scottish Arts Council
Directed by Hugh Hudson. Screenplay, Simon
Donald, based on the book, "Son
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.