As secrets go, this film has a big one.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Angels and Insects" will surprise you. Gentle and violent, repressed and expressive, very much in the time in which it is set. It is a film lover's pleasure.

Botanist William Adamson (Mark Rylance) has arrived empty-handed at the English estate of his patron, Sir Harald Alabaster, after losing the specimens collected during his ten- year search in the Amazon. The butterflies went down with the ship. The Englishman gives William room, board, working space, and his daughter, Eugenia (Patsy Kensit). In return for this generosity, William catalogues Sir Harald's collection.

The movie conveys beautifully the utter loneliness of the distinguished young naturalist forced to live in a cold and formal world. Marriage and children fill his time but not his heart. That he reserves for his work with Matty (Kristin Scott Thomas). Together they are recording a year in the life of an ant colony--a far more compelling bit of work than it seems. Matty's glorious drawings literally take your breath away and make a working collaboration with William inevitable.

Jumping back and forth between William's work and life in the odd household, the movie builds an atmosphere of strange disturbance. Eugenia is not the happy young beauty who swept William off his feet. Matty is a controlled coil in her repressed passion for William. Eugenia's angry, protective brother Edgar unleashes his rage during the formal dinners and on the lawn where the family idles, playing charades. Something is wrong, and we have no idea what it is. When we find out, the mysteries clear.

Mark Rylance is excellent in a difficult role as the naturalist trapped in a den of aristocrats. This is a character who could easily seem weak, but never does. Incredibly, he makes studying the ants the best part of the picture. Kristin Scott Thomas is strong and believable as the intellectual, multilingual artist with an appetite for William.

Patsy Kensit and Douglas Henshall are adept at making things uncomfortable, but Kensit has none of the complexity that her role demands. She plays Eugenia as the spoiled rich girl she is but without the added dimension demanded by the reality of her life.

Based on a novella by A.S. Byatt, it is adapted by Belinda and Phillip Haas, whose hands seem unsteady. The rhythm of unfolding events is oddly uneven. Building to revelation, the first half of the film seems pointless. After that, the story picks up as loose ends are explained and the actors are freed to follow their instincts.

It's a literary story set in the era when British aristocrats were right about everything. The very rich, it seems, often had a devil of a time figuring out how to fill their time. This family spends a lot of time talking about horses, ants, and butterflies; when they aren't talking, they pour their energy and imagination into the twists and turns of creative leisure. As secrets go, this film has a big one.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 492
Studio : Samuel Goldwyn
Rating : NR
Running Time: 1h57m

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