Sophisticated but sheltered sisters learn about love, betrayal and compromise in this coming-of-age story set in England between the World Wars and based on Dodie Smith's (101 Dalmatians) complex psychologically astute young adult novel, first published in 1948. The Mortmain family lives in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle in the English countryside, to which they moved 10 years earlier following the enormous success of James Mortmain's (Bill Nighy) literary novel "Jacob Wrestling." But Mortmain has written nothing since, and the family's lives are in shambles. Under circumstances no one will discuss, Mrs. Mortmain (Helena Little) has been replaced by Topaz (Tara FitzGerald), who believes she is a muse. There's no electricity, the roof leaks and the rent hasn't been paid in two years. Mortmain himself has descended into eccentricity just shy of out-and-out madness, though nobody wants to say so. Adolescent Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts) is still young enough to treat their situation as an adventure, but his sisters, 17-year-old Cassandra (Romola Garai) and slightly older Rose (Rose Byrne), have had enough of cold baths, candlelight and wondering whether there's going to be food on the table. The sisters are temperamental opposites Cassandra is bookish and brainy, always scribbling in her diary, while Rose fancies herself flirtacious and worldly but both are well-read, desperately unworldly and smart enough to know it. None of the Mortmain children has any practical experience of the world beyond their own peculiar family and the local villagers, but that changes with the arrival of their new landlords, American brothers Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil Cotton (Marc Blucas), who've recently inherited the castle as part of their late uncle's estate. Rose, feigning flinty pragmatism beyond her experience, decides that her marriage to Simon (the elder brother and therefore more favored heir) would solve all her family's financial problems and sets on getting him to fall in love with her. But love is more wayward than Cassandra and Rose imagine, and their naive scheming enmeshes them in heartbreaking entanglements. Smith's beautifully observed story of two young women learning how cruel and calculating the world and they can be is beautifully realized, and Garai stands out among a fine ensemble cast. Despite the period setting, the Mortmains' tribulations will be familiar to anyone who ever felt a stranger in his/her own family or despaired of finding a place in the world.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Sophisticated but sheltered sisters learn about love, betrayal and compromise in this coming-of-age story set in England between the World Wars and based on Dodie Smith's (101 Dalmatians) complex psychologically astute young adult novel, first published in… (more)