This tony love story with a Masterpiece Theater vibe fashion lays bare the sexual hypocrisy that underlies an English colony in 1936 Malaysia. British idealist John Truscott (Hugh Dancy) is looking forward to his three-year
supervisory post in far-off Sarawak. The district governor, Henry Bullard (Bob Hoskins), and his wife, Aggie (Brenda Blethyn), introduce the newcomer to tribal lore and the Empire’s way of doing things. But the priggish John alienates the native plantation workers at his British-run long house with his sanctimonious airs and despite his eagerness to follow his late father's program for educating "primitive people," John proves an ineffective bureaucrat. One custom he adamantly disdains is the "sleeping dictionary," the process by which foreign officials learn the local language through their concubines. John insults Chief Melaka (Michael Jessing Langgi) and initially spurns the attentions of the luscious Selima (Jessica Alba). But close quarters lead to physical intimacy and then to true romantic love. Unfortunately, neither the British empire nor the natives approve of miscegenation, so the Bullards fix up John with their ever-so proper daughter, Cecil (Emily Mortimer). Selima, who's pregnant with John's child, reluctantly weds Chief Melakas's son, Belansai (Eugene Salleh). Although John and Selima dutifully honor their respective marital vows, can't extinguish their passion and after a long period of pining, they flee the outpost. A jealous Belansai risks execution by attacking John, while Cecil's former suitor, Neville (Noah Taylor), tracks the fugitive couple through the jungle; violence and emotional blackmail threaten the couple's desperate efforts to recapture their brief happiness. Any one who thinks filmmakers have stopped cranking out exotic romances about sexually repressed heroes in white flannels and pidgin-speaking native gals in sarongs need look no further than this film for evidence to the contrary. If your taste runs to palm fronds and moonlit rendezvous, you might enjoy this impeccably produced bit of kitsch.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: This tony love story with a Masterpiece Theater vibe fashion lays bare the sexual hypocrisy that underlies an English colony in 1936 Malaysia. British idealist John Truscott (Hugh Dancy) is looking forward to his three-year supervisory post in far-off Sar… (more)