Courtesy Photo
Opened: Friday, January 16, 1998
Rated: R

Directed by Alan Rickman

Starring Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson, Gary Hollywood, Arlene Cockburn, Sheila Reid & Sandra Voe

"The Winter Guest"

"The Winter Guest" is pregnant with the meditative themes of age, youth, life, death, rebirth and fear of the unknown.

An emotionally raw composition packed with subtle allusions, it is a film with something heavy to say and boasts a couple artfully deep actors to say it.

Emma Thompson stars as Frances, a introspective woman bitterly coming to terms with the death of her husband, and the story largely revolves around her bickering relationship with her aging mother, played by British stage star Phyllida Law (Thompson's real-life mother).

But although Thompson and Law provide the film with a wonderful nuanced center, the plot also busies itself with a handful of poorly drawn secondary characters, assembled to symbolically parallel the mother and daughter, and to make some vague larger point about the cyclical nature of life.

I'll tell you the truth -- I didn't get it.

While Frances spends a day fuming under mother's constant buzzing about, her teenage son (Gary Hollywood) plays out an under-written coming-of-age plotline, frolicking around with a insolent local girl. This is in hinting at the love Frances has lost.

Parallels are also drawn to a pair of foul-mouthed pubescent boys (wasted youth) and another duo of frail elderly women who go to funerals to wile away their days (pensive old age).

The film takes place in a coastal English town on a day so cold even the sea has frozen, which in itself is formidable symbolism. But while the movie is percolating with meaning, away from the main the characters the relationships are emotionless and quite flat. Everyone but Thompson and Law act according to geometric alignments in the script, not as emotional beings would.

The directorial debut of Alan Rickman, a gifted actor best know in the U.S. as the villain in "Die Hard," this movie has the distinct aroma of a pretty good stage drama that lost something in its leap to the screen.

Rickman had directed the stage version of "The Winter Guest" in 1995, which explains a lot. At the helm of the film he fails to break free of the too familiar constraints that the theater production put on the story in his mind, and the resulting picture comes off like a videotaped performance of the play.

Had he had stuck exclusively to the mother and daughter in the film translation, "The Winter Guest" might have been an eloquent parable driven by conversation, confrontation and reconciliation -- even if it lost some of its carefully crafted allusions. But as it is, when we're away from Thompson and Law, it's a bit of a bore.

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