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OSCAR AND LUCINDA

SYNOPSIS:
Based on Peter Carey's Booker Prize winning novel
, Oscar and Lucinda is the story of a young British priest (Ralph Fiennes) brought up by a rigidly orthodox father, and an Australian woman (Cate Blanchett) who inherits enough money to buy a Sydney glassmaking factory. They are brought together in love and guilt by their passion for gambling, but they subjugate their unrequited desire to a bold, heroic gesture to transport a glass church to a remote Australian parish, where Lucinda’s friend is the priest, without a church. Oscar mistakenly believes that Lucinda is in love with the man, and sacrifices his own feelings in a noble but misconceived gesture to make Lucinda happy. He offers to lead the expedition that will deliver this astonishing gift to the outback village. An ultimately tragic journey, it delivers Oscar into the arms of a widow who "nabs" him, and whose son narrates the whole story.

"However generous and well disposed I am towards Gillian Armstrong’s attempt to make a passionate film about Oscar and Lucinda, I have to say it is an exercise that leaves my emotions virtually unused. Virtually, because by God it looks sumptuous and beautiful, with superb production design and arguably an Oscar’s worth of cinematography from Geoff Simpson. The images, more than the characters, are striking, involving and romantically rich. But Ralph Fiennes seems mannered and heavy with performance, Cate Blanchett seems constricted and the script is a succession of story-point jumps, like a steeplechase. The attempt to encompass Oscar’s entire life story (and beyond) is perhaps the most fatal of the creative decisions: it burdens the film with information that cripples it, with excess characters and with a yearning for much more exposition than is possible in a film, even at 131 minutes. A mini series could have done the material justice, but the haste to cover plot points and incidents along the length of the novel has crammed the film with a combination of narrative, which here has a distancing effect, rushed moments, confusing structure and characters without a place. The underlying yet repressed passion in the romance between Oscar and Lucinda – the very soul of the story - is something we are denied. It happens somewhere within the characters, perhaps, but apart from a reluctant half kiss and a slightly fuller, still modest version, we see little of it. Nor do we sense it in the muted, repressed antics of a man whose feelings for gambling seem to enliven him more. The spirit was clearly willing, but the medium is unforgiving: I regret that I cannot sincerely and wholeheartedly recommend this film to you."
Andrew L. Urban

"Splendid to look at, with stunning cinematography, Oscar and Lucinda fails to engage or ignite the passion to which it so desperately aspires. Whether the problem lies in the script or the direction, or a little of both, the film appears eager to relay the facts of the story, rather than allowing us to get to know the characters and empathise with them. Ralph Fiennes gives an affected performance as Oscar: and it is indeed a performance, his affectations eventually an irritation. Cate Blanchett makes a fiery Lucinda, but is always hindered by the script. It is hard to believe that Oscar and Lucinda are so passionate for each other when their one on-screen kiss last a few seconds, and their relationship is not properly developed. We are not aching for them, but rather waiting to see what happens next, admiring Geoffrey Simpson’s magnificent cinematography. Thomas Newman’s music score is at times splendid and evokes touches of ethereal quality, but at other times it sounds disappointingly predictable and generic. Here is a story among whose many elements obsession, fear & compulsion play a key role, yet the metaphors for strength and fragility are not satisfactorily portrayed. I desperately wanted to like this film, but was sadly disappointed."
Louise Keller

"It must have been irresistible to bring Peter Carey’s darkly ironic study of isolation, gambling and star-crossed romance to the screen, and Gillian Armstrong may well have been the director to pull it off. So what happened? From the time Armstrong read the manuscript 10 years before the final cut, it all got lost in a screenplay that is both superficial and lacking in emotional depth - and a performance that seems straight out of amateur theatre. Australian screenwriter Laura Jones has a problem, not only in fully defining male characters, but bringing to her work a sense of emotional richness. There’s always this cool detachment to her work, prevalent in such uninspiring adaptations as those of The Well and the dreadful, Portrait of a Lady. Oscar and Lucinda has lost the quirky humour and rich irony that made Carey’s work a best-seller and Booker prize-winner. The humour is patchy and sense of character thin. It doesn’t help that she’s tried to cram in as much of Carey’s multi-layered narrative as possible, the end result being a patchy and confusing screenplay, that appears almost like a series of dramatic vignettes, not a cohesive work. Armstrong’s visual sense is certainly apparent, and her eye for period detail is one of the few strengths here, coupled by the extraordinary look of the film and the haunting music. But the film fails to sustain interest for much of its wasted two plus hours. The film’s other major flaw is the performance of Ralph Fiennes, so meticulously controlled in Schindler’s List and Quiz Show, yet so garishly over-the-top as Oscar. Using the kinds of facial expressions straight out of drama school, his performance is mannered and obvious, bordering on self-indulgent caricature. Blanchett is far better as Lucinda, giving her the kind of self-assurance that helps define this complex being. Yet, through the shallow screenplay, one never gets to know two characters who should have been extraordinary. Regrettably Oscar and Lucinda is Ms Armstrong’s least satisfying work to date, in an otherwise brilliant career."
Paul Fischer

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 3
Mixed: 0

Read Paul Fischer's interview with
CATE BLANCHETT

Read Lynden Barber's
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

OSCAR & LUCINDA (M)
Australia)

CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, Clive Russell, Peter Whitford, Tom Wilkinson, Josephine Byrnes, Billie Brown, Ciaran Hinds, Barry Otto

PRODUCERS: Tim White, Robin Dalton

DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong

SCRIPT: Laura Jones

CINEMATOGRAPHER; Geoffrey Simpson

EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman

PRODUCTION DESIGN; Luciana Arrighi

COSTUME DESIGNER: Janet Patterson

MUSIC: Thomas Newman

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 22, 1998

VIDEO RELEASE: April 19, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

RRP: $19.95







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