Starring Patsy Kensit, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance

This film is on the Best of 1996 list.
"Angels & Insects"

Opened: Feb. 2, 1996 | Rated: R

The first half of "Angels and Insects" seems to be a slowly paced ballet of parallels drawn between the dynamics of family, society and the insect world.

The effect -- administered mostly through bulbous costumes, dances that resemble the precision of a bee hive and the strict enforcement of rules of conduct within a wealthy family -- is impressionable, but somewhat dull. The family in question is a little too understated, even for being English.

But as the story wears on, the family's quirks and prejudices begin to surface, making liberal use of the insect parallels, and soon the film becomes luring and it's almost impossible to look away.

"Angels and Insects" follows the life of a working class explorer (Mark Rylance) after a shipwreck sends him to his benefactor for shelter and work. The patriarch takes him into the family home, where he falls in love with the striking daughter (Patsy Kensit).

The brother, a malcontent classist snob, takes a disliking to the explorer after he wins the hand of the girl and talks constantly of their children not having the proper breeding.

Kensit's violent mood swings, from ravenous and lustful to melancholy, contribute to our hero's confusion, as does his attraction to his drab but intelligent assistant (Kristin Scott Thomas in a captivating performance).

Intimate as it is with the characters, the triumph of "Angels and Insects" is it's unrelenting symbolism, which becomes more interesting as the film progresses. The women are doted on by servants like a queen bee. A scene in which the two scholars are studying a colony of red ants that invade a colony of black is followed by a fox hunt -- the well-to-do in their red jackets, the servants in black.

Thomas makes an observation late in the film -- "There are three kinds of people in this house: the visible, the invisible and the in between." "Angels and Insects" is a fascinating portrait of being that "in between."

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