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On the eve of war, Fascist Italy still looks glorious, at least around Florence, where a small enclave of English society lingers in the dusk of the world as it was then. Attractive but financially insecure widow Mary Panton (Kristin Scott Thomas) is torn between the solid and possibly stuffy life as the older Sir Edgar Swift’s dutiful wife, and the dangerous, unstable future as the woman (possibly one of, possibly temporarily) in the life of a charming rogue, Rowley Flint (Sean Penn). With the dubious advice of Princess San Ferdinando (Anee Bancroft) ringing in hear ears, Mary makes a well intentioned mistake with a young East European refugee, Karl (Jeremy Davies) triggering a series of dramatic events that change her life.

"Positively brimming with atmosphere, Up At The Villa takes a keenly observed look at matters of the heart, prestige and position. Set in glorious Florence during the last days before the outbreak of World War II, Somerset Maugham's story is filled with subtlety, nuance and elegance. You could well be forgiven if you succumb simply to the wonders of the full moon hovering over this exquisite city and allow its vistas, gardens and charms to seduce you. But the fabulous production design, setting and sense of place are only a part of the enjoyment. Up At The Villa is an exquisite exploration of class and restraint, its dramatic elements exposed deep in the emotional journey. Moody direction and an intelligent screenplay capture the mood beautifully, drawing us into this world where money and position define social status. Marriage is a calculation, while love signifies humiliation. Kristen Scott Thomas gives a wonderful central performance – we totally understand her generous spirit and bewilderment when a well-intentioned wrong judgement changes her perceptions and direction. She is fragile yet strong and there's plenty of chemistry with Sean Penn's risk-taking bad boy. All the performances are superb: James Fox's snobbish gentleman of ambition and Anne Bancroft's superficial Princess. You won't forget Jeremy Davies as the Austrian refugee who tastes heaven and refuses to be cast back into hell, nor Sir Derek Jacobi, whose character is almost incidental, yet we feel richer for having made his acquaintance nonetheless. We feel as though we know these people; the revelation is about their honesty and manners. This is a film that you enjoy moment by moment – there are no special effects – just a gripping human story. Moving, poignant and thought provoking, Up at the Villa is an engrossing encounter. If the eloquence of the human heart can beguile, you will adore this rich cinematic work."
Louise Keller

"The restrained emotions may pass for English reserve, but that doesn’t quite convince as the reason for this otherwise lush production to be so . . .muted. True, as Louise says, it is full of atmosphere; but that’s not the same thing. The period is superbly evoked, the characters are engaging and the story is intriguing; but we are left a little frustrated that we don’t get carried away with the emotions, of which there is surely quite a dollop to work with. There are some stunning performances, though; I especially reveled in Sean Penn’s quietly spoken Rowley Flint, a complex rogue who can also be noble, Kristin Scott Thomas’ tortured, misguided widow, learning the hard way about good intentions leading to hell, and the remarkable Anne Bancroft, the most compleat screen actress in America. The ominous shadow of war and Fascism hangs over the fabulous Florentine setting, adding extra edginess to the tragic aspects of the story. This is a beautifully crafted period love drama originating from Somerset Maugham’s refined pen, and it will appeal to those who enjoy exploring the subtleties of an age and a class no longer found at large."
Andrew L. Urban

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CAST: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Jeremy Davies, Derek Jacobi, Massimo Ghini

DIRECTOR: Philip Haas

PRODUCER: Geoff Stier

SCRIPT: Belinda Haas (from a novella by W. Somerset Maugham)


EDITOR: Belinda Haas

MUSIC: Pino Donaggio


RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 21, 2000


VIDEO RELEASE: April 24, 2001

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