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WINTER GUEST

SYNOPSIS:
The setting is a small seaside town in Scotland on the coldest day of the year. Even the sea has frozen over. Four couples - a mother and grown up daughter at the centre, two elderly ladies at the outer edge, two schoolboys and a teenage couple taking a tentative step towards romance – run through a range of emotional shifts during a wintry day in a Scottish seaside village. Sometimes they interact, sometimes they are in isolation, but each poignant story takes us into the characters’ lives as they undergo the transitions of living – and dying. The first couple is that of Elspeth (Phylida Law) and her recently-widowed daughter, Frances (Emma Thompson), who have a stormy relationship. They love each other deeply, but both are stubborn and neither is willing to admit that they need the other. Frances' adult son, Alex (Gary Hollywood), is a lonely young man who has been caring for his mother since the death of his father. On this day, he meets a girl, Nita (Arlene Cockburn), who has secretly been spying on him for weeks. Although their first encounter is unsuccessful, both become aware of an attraction. Once they retire to a place where they can be alone, however, things don't go exactly as planned. Lily (Sheila Reid) and Chloe (Sandra Voe) are a couple of old friends who are frequent funeral attendees. They squabble but deep down they are interdependent. Sam (Douglas Murphy) and Tom (Sean Biggerstaff), a pair of schoolboy chums, are spending this cold February day cutting classes and hanging out at the beach. They are young enough to still believe in magic, but old enough to recognise that the process of crossing into adulthood robs life of the simple joy that only children can experience.

"The theatrical genesis of the dramatic structure of The Winter Guest makes a surprisingly easy transition to the screen in Alan Rickman’s evidently caressing hands. His first feature, this film is filled with cinematic intuition: from the sparing use of piano, often as bleak as the frozen sea that hems in the village, to the easy transition from action to observation as Elspeth (Phyllida Law) puts her eye to the telescope in the house on the edge of the frozen sea, taking a casual perve at the two old ladies at the bus stop, bickering and sniping as they read the obituaries. Each of the characters is allowed to grow in complexity in front of our eyes, as the film’s unhurried yet gently gripping dynamic illuminates them with the light of understanding. There is little that is judgemental in Rickman’s film, much that is wise. He develops character as surely as good wine does, with a combination of time and the right emotional temperature. The central performances of Law and her real life daughter Emma Thompson as her screen daughter Frances, are superb, and are matched by the six others in the cast. The two schoolboys, Sam (Douglas Murphy) and Tom (Sean Biggerstaff) are worthy of special mention if for no other reason than their age: at 14, they manage to make acting disappear. A haunting, often surprising film, The Winter Guest is a movie treasure, engaging and entertaining, deeply felt and yet applied with gossamer lightness of touch."
Andrew L. Urban

"The solo piano haunts with a plaintive, beautiful melody etched from solitary notes, before being joined by pizzicato strings. So begins the poignant look at four different couples, representing four different generations, in this essay on relationships, crossroads and making decisions. Unhurried, thoughtful and intelligent, Alan Rickman’s debut film is a beautiful work of observation, and a sensitive portrayal of issues large and small that affect our lives. Set on a striking, bleak backdrop of a harsh Scottish location, where the chill in the air is transmitted through the screen, the script is economical as we meet the characters, who jointly and separately are on different paths. Pivotal to these are Frances and Elspeth - played by the enormous talents of Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law. Thompson is superb as Frances, whose bereavement has placed her on a path of denial and unwillingness to make a decision. The on-screen relationship with her mother, (Law striking as Elspeth), has classic dynamics and is riveting to watch. Under the bickering lies genuine caring and affection, which is often hard to express. All the performances are superb and in Rickman’s deliberately paced film, the characters are vivid pictures painted on a canvas. The elderly ladies obsessed with death are simply a delight, while the youngest pair (Douglas Murphy and Sean Biggerstaff are extraordinary) leads us into the future and events still to come. The Winter Guest is a rare treat - a beautiful cinematic experience and a must-see for lovers of a complex, intelligent film, that is etched into the psyche."
Louise Keller

"Since time immemorial, children have tried to become independent of their parents; parents have continued to dote on their children craving freedom but seeking a desperate form of dependence on those they brought into the world, while friends and lovers have counted on each other, afraid of a lonely resolution in life. The Winter Guest is the most intricate and delicate of works, a shimmering, eloquent, funny and realistically poignant examination of the complexities of human relationships. The film is filled with an unexpected truth, an honesty that is rare. This is not a conventionally structured film, it deals with various pairs of characters and their own search for answers to life's foreboding questions. Making his debut as a director, Alan Rickman has chosen to adapt a play, and has selected a thematically broad piece. Though wordy, it's by no means theatrical, and indeed, he uses his camera to reinforce the film's exploration of life, dependence, death, sex and friendship. He has also elicited some of the most astonishing performances of recent memory. Phyllida Law so radiates the screen with her age-old wisdom and clarity, that one wonders why we don't see more of her. Her face alone speaks volumes, and she sparkles with wit and wry wisdom. Law's real-life daughter, Emma Thompson, is superb here, giving a quietly understated and emotionally resonant performance as the widow trying to come to terms with loss. The film deals with this mother-daughter relationship minus cliched histrionics yet is just as touching and funny. The younger cast is also superb, and the film is visually striking, with the closing shot - where two young boys venture onward through mist, a metaphor to what lay ahead, simply stunning. The film takes its time, but it's far from slow. With sharply observed characters of varying ages, the film is a detailed look at ourselves. It's an exquisite, intricate work, lovingly told and faultlessly performed. This is a guest well worth inviting."
Paul Fischer

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 4
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0
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Director, Alan Rickman

WINTER GUEST, THE (M)15+
(UK)

 

CAST: Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson, Gary Hollywood, Arlene Cockburn, Sheila Reid, Sandra Voe, Douglas Murphy, Sean Biggerstaff

DIRECTOR: Alan Rickman

PRODUCER: Ken Lipper, Edward R. Pressman, Steve Clark-Hall

SCRIPT: Alan Rickman, Sharman MacDonald (based on the play by MacDonald)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey

EDITOR: Scott Thomas

MUSIC: Michael Kamen

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robin Cameron Don

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 5, 1998







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