Defiant, self centred young Angel Deverell (Romola Garai) lives with her mother (Jacqueline Tong) above their grocery shop in a small town in early 20th century England. She is fully confident that she is a gifted young writer and dreams of success, fame and love. When she finds a publisher for her first novel, Theo (Sam Neill) who'll take a chance on her, her dreams begin to come true. Success quickly introduces her to new possibilities, including the handsome Esmé (Michael Fassbender), brother to her biggest fan, Nora (Lucy Russell). While Nora becomes her personal secretary and confidante, Esmé becomes her husband. When war breaks out, Esmé enlists much to Angel's horror; she becomes isolated, falls ill and her life spirals out of control. Esmé returns disabled, and his secrets destroy what's left of Angel's life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The last Elizabeth Taylor novel adaptation, Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont (October 2006), starred Joan Plowright and made a sweet if inconsequential film, Plowright holding our interest with a subtle yet complete character study. That was her penultimate novel, written in 1971. Angel was written in 1957, and the vast shifts in the social order, society, manners and morals between the two eras is discernable even in the two adaptations. What's more, Angel is set in England from 1905 to about 1920.
Francois Ozon, a young French filmmaker whose cultural anchor is French and whose interest in women's internal affairs is evident in films like Under the Sand, Swimming Pool and 8 Women (all of which feature the evergreen Charlotte Rampling), has bitten off more than he can chew with Angel. He talks about novelist Elizabeth Taylor's 'often grotesque' Angel, a character 'you love and hate at the same time ... Scarlett O'Hara immediately came to mind.' But Ozon has not been able to do what the novel may have done in taking us along for the story, never mind her unlikeable nature. He didn't think we would want to spend two hours with an utterly negative character - but that is what he has given us. It's not Romola Garai's fault that she is unlikeable; she is meant to be - although Ozon had hoped to give her some charms and qualities of determination. But that's just not enough and as a result, we hardly care what happens to her.
Ozon doesn't resile from the fact that she's a rather pedestrian writer; but that's not a problem of credibility in publishing, I hasten to add. However, her rise to fame and fortune is hazily presented, as is everything else, except the none-too subtle sexually suggestive affections that Nora (excellent Lucy Russell) displays for her literary idol.
Silly little technical flaws (bad false beard, lots of bad fake snow, badly shot amputated leg) also mar the film's progress through our emotional speed trap, and occasional absurdities in costuming Garai trigger guffaws that aren't quite in synch with Ozon's intentions - to demonstrate her going barmy. Angel seems like a collection of misjudgements that required much effort, but with little satisfaction for that effort.
DVD special features include cast and crew interviews, and a behind the scenes featurette.
Published July 8, 2008
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ANGEL: DVD (M)
CAST: Romola Garai, Charlotte Rampling, Lucy Russell, Michael Fassbender, Sam Neill, Jacqueline Tong, Janine Duvitski, Christopher Benjamin
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
DIRECTOR: François Ozon
SCRIPT: François Ozon, Martin Crimp (novel by Elizabeth Taylor)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Denis Lenoir
EDITOR: Muriel Breton
MUSIC: Philippe Rombi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Katia Wyszkop
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 22, 2007
SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes featurette, cast and crew interviews, featurette
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
DVD RELEASE: July 9, 2008