QUEEN OF SHEBA'S PEARLS, THE
Some years after the Second World War, young Jack Bradley (Rollo Weeks) and his extended family live a quiet life in an English village. Their lives are disrupted by the arrival of Nancy Ackerman (Helena Bergström), a Swedish woman who is the exact double of Jack's mother killed during the war. Initially Nancy claims to be seeking work as a cleaner, but as it becomes clear that she has other reasons for seeking them out, her warm, unconventional personality begins to affect various members of the family who suffer from their own forms of loneliness and loss.
Review by Jake Wilson:
I don't think I've ever enjoyed a film where a free-spirited outsider brings new life to a strait-laced community, but this tragic-comic-historical-pastoral romance scrapes the bottom of all its generic barrels, to say nothing of being extremely badly directed by Colin Nutley, an Englishman based in Sweden whose many previous films I've managed not to see. Nutley must believe that his schmaltzy plot devices are surefire winners, since he's happy to use any old means to put them across: it takes confidence to show us the same slo-mo flashback of a mother waving goodbye not twice but three times over.
And so it goes: "near enough is good enough" could be the motto throughout. Subplots are intercut haphazardly; focus drifts; though she's established from the outset as a force to be reckoned with, for the most part Nancy is given little to do. Considering this is meant to be a feelgood movie, it's possible Nutley should have thought twice about setting so many scenes in the dingy lamplight of the family home, though the outdoor idylls where characters enjoy life's simple pleasures (bicycling, cricket on the beach) are not much better. There are also many shots with mirrors, often pushed, peculiarly, to the very edge of the frame: this is clearly an artistic touch, but I'm hard put to say whether it represents the "doubling" of the heroine, the dual worlds of past and present, or something else again.
The actors, at least, are more than adequate for their stock roles, apart from a stray schoolboy who pulls a few too many faces. Ably conveying vulnerability beneath a brisk, smiling manner, Helena Bergström is close to being the ray of sunshine the script calls for - though she also seems a slightly artificial personality, with a determined brightness that might have served her better in her younger days.
While Nancy becomes a substitute mother for Jack, she's also associated (through the title, at least) with his sexual awakening; this type of ambiguity is familiar in stories of adolescence, but still not territory the film wants to explore. Instead we're left with over two hours of unfeasible whimsy - stuffed-shirt officials who rage against masturbation, twee romantic subplots allotted to the ageing daughters of the household (one simple-minded, one repressed), slapstick mishaps suffered by incompetent undertakers, and so on and so forth. After ten minutes, I could only wish Lars von Trier would come along and blow the whole thing up.
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QUEEN OF SHEBA'S PEARLS, THE (M)
CAST: Helena Bergström, Lorcan Cranitch, Lindsay Duncan, Tim Dutton, Rollo Weeks
PRODUCER: Colin Nutley, Judith Hackett, Maritha Norstedt
DIRECTOR: Colin Nutley
SCRIPT: Colin Nutley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jens Fischer
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Per Andréasson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Pernilla Olsson
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 29, 2005