Asylum

on August 12, 2005 by Bridget Byrne
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The cast counts for something: Natasha Richardson, resonating a brittle luminosity, which inevitably reminds of her heritage as a daughter of Vanessa Redgrave; Ian McKellen, always intriguing, although confined here to being mainly just menacingly arch; Marton Csokas, much more dangerously threatening than in that hokey bad knight role in "Kingdom of Heaven"; Hugh Bonneville, always able to come up with a good turn, even when, as here, given little to play with.

The story, based on the romantic thriller by Patrick McGrath, has all sorts of nooks and crannies: the conflict between heart and mind, the clash between thoughtless deeds and reasoned manipulation, the fine line between love and obsession. But the film is as dank and dreary like its locales -- a psychiatric hospital, a seedy slum, an isolated cottage. Its fears and sorrows, erotic titillations and emotional tribulations, whether sane or crazy, well-intentioned or dishonorable, just don't crack through the screen barrier. We observe, but we do not really feel. Despite all the on-screen intensity, we are locked out.

Stella (Richardson), the unfulfilled wife of an aspiring doctor (Bonneville), takes up with a glamorous mental patient (Coskas) who has murdered his wife. Whether she does this out of her own free will and neediness, or because she's tricked into it by her husband's rival (McKellen), is speculative. Ambiguity is all here -- how much her grand and foolish love is reciprocated is also up to the audience to decide. Tragic consequences are inevitable, especially as there's a child involved and the dramatics take place during the stultifying high proprieties of 1950s England, personified neatly, in different styles, by Joss Ackland as the hospital's unimaginative head doctor and Judy Parfitt as Stella's unsympathetic mother-in-law. Starring Natasha Richardson, Ian McKellen, Hugh Bonneville and Marton Csokas. Directed by David Mackenzie. Written by Patrick Marber. Produced by Laurie Borg, David E. Allen and Mace Neufeld. A Paramount Classics release. Rated R for strong sexuality, some violence and brief language. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality, some violence and brief language. Running time: 90 min

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