Jeanne Moreau steals the show in this quiet comedy of manners produced by the BBC.
Margaret (Lena Headey) is a shy, pale, middle-class Englishwoman who is reluctantly engaged to her older, twittish neighbor Syl Monro (David Threlfall). Both bride- and groom-to-be still live with their mothers in the humdrum suburb of Croydon. However Margaret has been acting strangely ever
since a vacation in Egypt, where she stayed with her mother's friend Marie-Claire (Catherine Schell). She secretly despises Syl, but does not resist when her mother Monica (Julie Walters), who has repressed the failure of her own matrimony, insists on marriage for the sake of social convention.
The family skeletons begin to fly out of the closet, however, when an old, half-Egyptian family friend, Lili (Jeanne Moreau), arrives. A free spirit, Lily brings Margaret out of her shell and comically plots to sabotage the wedding.
Even though Lili once had an affair with Syl's father, she befriends the widow Monro (Joan Plowright) and convinces her that the marriage is a bad idea. Satirical portraits of bad couplings and infidelities proliferate: Margaret's father Derek (Roger Lloyd Pack) arrives with his uptight second
wife and two bratty children; Lili's husband Robert is revealed to have bedded Marie-Claire; and Margaret herself, it turns out, fanned her flame with Marie-Claire's son. (She also saw him commit an unexplained murder). Lili instructs all parties to gather at the summer house on the morning of the
wedding, where they discover she has set up the no-good Syl, casually fornicating with the boorish twit. Margaret, freed from her engagement, becomes a nun.
Not all of the odd subplots and backstories in this eccentric little sendup of petit-bourgeois morality jibe. But the central comic performances by Moreau, Plowright, and Walters keep things lively, especially during the increasingly farcical second half of the film. Moreau's glorious entrance
positively saves the slow first act; once she arrives, her Lili character dominates the rest of the action with her unconventional behavior. The cosmopolitan visitor flirts, flaunts, winks, drinks, jokes, and schemes her way through every scene, shaking up two staid but dysfunctional British
households. David Threlfall's Syl on the other hand is such a perfectly contemptible pig that Lili's outrageous cuckolding is welcomed as poetic justice.
Despite this strong finish and polished performances, there are some disturbing and bewildering elements in THE SUMMER HOUSE. While Lili's escapades proceed light-heartedly, Margaret's flashbacks reveal a dark background that is out of place amid the comedy. Her quiet shyness derives from the
suppression of memories about her summer vacation and her childhood. As her nightmares reveal the disturbing sexual nature of these events, she thinks more of entering a convent than a marriage. In a casual bit of dialogue, Monica implies that Derek had molested Margaret as a child. Later, the
truth about the Egyptian vacation emerges. At first, Margaret seems only wistful about her tryst with Marie-Claire's handsome son. But her gradually visualized memories reveal that this young man not only capriciously and brutally murdered a local Gypsy girl, he also asked Margaret to help cover
up the crime. Thus, while the dissolution of her marriage to Syl comes off in comic fashion, Margaret's deep and serious problems remain obscured and unadressed.
These darker moments, however, take up only a small portion of screen time. Though they are unsettling, the comedy of British manners that surrounds them remains quirky and subtle enough to enjoy--especially when played out by Madames Moreau and Plowright. (Sexual situations, adult situations,violence, alcohol abuse.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: Jeanne Moreau steals the show in this quiet comedy of manners produced by the BBC. Margaret (Lena Headey) is a shy, pale, middle-class Englishwoman who is reluctantly engaged to her older, twittish neighbor Syl Monro (David Threlfall). Both bride- and g… (more)