A well-acted film that starts out as a study of sibling rivalry and co-dependent behavior, THE SECRET RAPTURE takes several sharp turns and winds up as a confounding and unpersuasive allegory.
When patriarch Robert Coleridge dies, his daughters, judgmental corporate bluenose Marion (Penelope Wilton) and passionately soulful Isobel (Juliet Stevenson), must gather at his venerable country home and contend with their dubious inheritance: splenetic alcoholic stepmother Katherine (Joanne
Whalley-Kilmer). Marion and Katherine pressure Isobel into giving the widow a job--and temporary home--in a small graphic arts studio that she shares with boyfriend Patrick (Neil Pearson). Patrick warns Isobel not to give in to emotional blackmail--he sizes up Katherine as a dangerous and unstable
person--but Isobel feels she owes it to her father to look after the woman. Patrick's suspicions are confirmed almost immediately; Katherine approaches their modest business with a heartless aggression that sickens Isobel, and arranges for Marion and her husband Tom (Alan Howard) to take a
controlling interest in the firm without consulting Patrick or Isobel. When Marion convinces Patrick that he'll be "properly paid" and better managed as part of their corporate empire, he reluctantly agrees, creating a rift in his relationship with Isobel.
After the sale of the firm, Isobel withdraws from Patrick, dismissing his needs for attention as childish and punishing him with her work schedule. Katherine falls off the wagon and, when some horny clients humiliate her, she attacks one with a steak knife and lands in a mental ward. Marion
abuses Isobel ("How could you let this happen?"), and Isobel finds Patrick in the arms of an office temp. They have a terrible confrontation in which she confesses to having lost her feelings for him when he betrayed her in the buyout. They exchange blows and Isobel disappears into the night.
In her absence, Patrick falls apart, sulking and staking out her apartment. Marion and Tom decide to close the now unprofitable firm. When Isobel returns, she confronts Marion, telling her that she now realizes that there are people in her life who wish her harm. Marion calls Isobel selfish and
manipulative. Isobel takes Katherine out of the hospital, and together they return to the old country house for a healing winter respite. They enjoy hard work and simple pleasures, until Patrick shows up, claiming he just wants to talk to Isobel; he also has a gun. Isobel tells Katherine to call
the police, but she doesn't budge. Isobel walks out. Patrick shoots her. Marion cannot bring herself to join the funeral entourage, mumbling numbly that she can't remember what she's been so angry about all her life. After the others leave, she sees the ghost of Isobel enter the old house. She
This is a frustrating film, not least because Isobel, who is meant to be taken for an intelligent woman, makes so many stupid decisions at the outset. Far more upsetting is the disintegration of Patrick, who at first appears rational, perceptive, and mature, but who suddenly and improbably
mutates into a violent, monomaniacal lunatic. No context is provided for any of the numerous radical shifts in attitude that characters undergo, making it difficult to comprehend, let alone sympathize with, their behavior. One begins to suspect that they do things merely because the story requires
Or, more accurately, because screenwriter David Hare requires them to. Hare, the well-known British playwright, likes to construct socio-economic allegories with Pinteresque mannerisms (e.g., PLENTY), but he lacks Pinter's way with dialogue and saving sense of absurdist humor. The speeches here
are "true" rather than real--characters are made to say portentous things that they would never say in real life--and the social subtext (something about post-Thatcher capitalism and its distorting effect on family love and loyalty) is too vague to grasp in any meaningful way. The cast is
uniformly first-rate, but only Whalley-Kilmer has anything to sink her teeth into, and her character practically disappears after the knifing. Poor Wilton can't rise above her irritating one-note role, and Stevenson, who has to carry the heaviest load, does too well, making her questionable
actions all the more aggravating. (Profanity, nudity, sexual situations, violence.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A well-acted film that starts out as a study of sibling rivalry and co-dependent behavior, THE SECRET RAPTURE takes several sharp turns and winds up as a confounding and unpersuasive allegory. When patriarch Robert Coleridge dies, his daughters, judgme… (more)