Even when she offers him the simple pleasures of time in the country, he manages to ruin the day.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"A Merry War" is that most welcome event: a periodic reminder from the British of how tightly we are wound here in the colonies. An earnest American looking for logic-and we do look everywhere for logic-might sit for fully a third of this movie before succumbing to its charm. With a delicate touch, Director Robert Bierman mixes an eccentric story with a sharp-edged comment on class structure, and then wraps the whole thing in humor.

In Depression-era London, a young graphic artist named Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter) and her high-strung copywriter beau, Gordon Comstock (Richard E. Grant), work effectively at the New Albion advertising agency, where they are thoroughly appreciated for their efforts on behalf of important clients. The problem: Gordon wants to be a world-famous poet so he can leave behind the aspidistra house plants that symbolize middle-class mediocrity for him.

In a rash move based solely on a comment in the London Times that referred to him as showing exceptional promise, Gordon quits his job and begins the mighty struggle with words. Rarely has a life's choice been based on so little. Falling into a downward spiral of rejections and writer's block, the embittered poet rails against the middle class and the literary establishment. Exhilarated by the absence of pretension, he embraces the new friends in his shabby surroundings as the genuine stuff of life. "They've got nothing to lose, so they always speak the truth." For Gordon, poverty is pure.

Wealth is complicated. The boss who appreciates his ad copy observes of his decision to write poetry, "Isn't there enough of that stuff out there already?" and shows an abysmal ignorance of literature. The publisher who befriends and encourages him indulges in Thursday-afternoon assignations with a beastly snob. The movie is based, after all, on a 1936 novel by George Orwell, so it's no surprise that even managers with redeeming kindness are targeted for their shortcomings.

Neither is it a surprise that Gordon sees life in terms of poverty and fulfillment versus money and selling out. "Love, tenderness and money, and the greatest of these is money," he cries. Drowning in his own resentment, Gordon is raging not so much at the existence of money as at the fact that he seems to need it for everything he wants to do.

Watching Gordon's sad saga with bemused detachment, loyal Rosemary waits patiently for the man she loves to run out of steam. Even when she offers him the simple pleasures of time in the country, he manages to ruin the day. Helena Bonham Carter is charming and credible as the independent and capable graphic artist who has no intention of abandoning her job in the middle-class world. Will Gordon join her there among the aspidistras? The journey to the answer is a lesson in how witty the British can be when firing a fusillade of poisoned darts at themselves.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : UBA-Sentinel Films
Rating : NR
Running time : 1h41m

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