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In 19th century London, Rosina Da Silva (Minnie Driver) is shaken by the murder of her father, a wealthy Jewish merchant. To deal with family debts, Rosina places a classified ad in a local newspaper and gets a job as a nanny with a gentile family in Scotland. Adopting the name Mary Blackchurch and posing as a gentile, she joins the dysfunctional Cavendish family, caring for young Clementina (Florence Hoath) and fending off the advances of teen Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Head of the household is philologist and inventor Charles Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson), and when she gives Charles an assist on his photographic experiments, an affair develops.

"The Governess is possibly the most interesting and beautiful film from Britain so far this year. This wonderfully told story of passion, longing, prejudice and betrayal is brought brilliantly to life, thanks largely to the powerhouse performance of Minnie Driver. Driver generally hasn’t had a good run in Hollywood - often cast as a secondary love interest to a male lead (a la Good Will Hunting). But here, as the self-assured but vulnerable Rosina, she can showcase her considerable talents. She is supported by the always excellent Tom Wilkinson as Charles, a man whose obsession for his work comes into conflict with his passion for Rosina. But this is not your standard Jane Austen period flick. There’s some colourful language, nudity (Wilkinson actually does the "full monty") and several frank love scenes - definitely not a film for prudes. However, the physical attraction between Rosina and Charles is delicately treated as a slow burn, not with sexual fireworks. And the film’s subtext concerning anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience never descends into rhetoric. First time writer/director Sandra Goldbacher brings a very personal vision to The Governess, greatly assisted by astonishing cinematography from Ashley Rowe. The film itself is like an early photograph - sepia tones but exquisite detail."
David Edwards

"The Governess may indeed have its heart in the right place, but it lacks any kind of emotional centre. This beautiful looking piece is a slow and rambling affair, almost as creaky as its stereotypical characters. When it's not being slow and atmospheric, it resorts to histrionic melodrama, and erodes any sense of realism it purports to build up in its opening sequences. The film has little idea of what it's about: the nature of Judaism, photography, and a search for one’s own independence or sexual fulfilment. It's a mishmash of ideas that results in a sluggish, silly exercise. Minnie Driver is certainly beautiful and does her best with the simpering, directionless character she's given to work with. There is a keen sense of history and setting, and it's a glorious work to watch. As a look at 19th century British Jewry, the film is interesting [but doesn't go far enough]; as narrative cinema, it stinks."
Paul Fischer

"Part academic period piece, part revisionist fantasy, The Governess is a kind of literary adaptation without a source, playing the conventions of the 19th century novel off against a sharply contemporary lead actress. Though her character is perceived as triply ‘Other’ (lower-class, Jewish, female) within Victorian society, the thoroughly modern Minnie Driver makes it easy for us to identify with her free-spirited directness, especially when contrasted with the gentility of her stuffed-shirt employers. Thus much of the film is a fashionable pipe dream about a woman whose Judaism magically allows her to stand outside convention: she's sexually bold yet vulnerable, knows just how to deal with the fiendish brat she's hired to teach, and is an expert on everything from Latin and chemistry to seashells. All this enables her, in the script's most fanciful twist, to become the secret inventor of photography, though her claim to this discovery is ultimately denied by her decent but fatally patriarchal lover. I suspect that these languid, semi-melodramatic developments are meant as some sort of feminist allegory about cinema: certainly there are ideas floating round to do with science, sexuality, the power of the image, and so on, though it's all a little familiar and vague. The performances, however, are strong, and others may like this more than I did."
Jake Wilson

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Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1



CAST: Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Florence Hoath, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Harriet Walter, Arlene Cockburn

PRODUCERS: Sarah Curtis

DIRECTOR: Sandra Goldbacher

SCRIPT: Sandra Goldbacher


EDITOR: Isabel Lorente

MUSIC: Edward Shearmur


RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 1998

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