Amy Foster

Amy Foster

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Joseph Conrad was a Pole. He must have known how the English fear and despise foreigness. This was before Eurotrash, sundried tomatoes and Juliette Binoche. Put a bloke with a funny accent into a 19th century rural community and there's bound to be trouble.

The bloke with the funny accent is Yanko (Vincent Perez), a dashing Russian peasant, en route to America. He is washed ashore on a Cornish beach after his immigrant boat goes down in a storm, killing everyone on board except him. He staggers barefoot through a downpour (it rains a lot, bring a brolly) to the nearest farmstead, where the first human face he sees is that of the servant girl, Amy Foster.

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It is a meeting of outcasts. She is the daughter of Isaac Foster (Tom Bell), a labourer, who hasn't a kind word to say for her. Scandal taints their family and Amy is thought of as a witch and a simpleton by the villagers. She seldom speaks, spends whatever spare time she has on the cliff tops, gazing out to sea, a secret and passionate girl, destined, she believes, to suffer forever.

As a love story it has all the ingredients of a girls' dorm fantasy and yet the telling of it lacks cohesion, appearing as a series of isolated incidents, joined by the convention that one thing must follow another. Yanko is badly treated for being different, until befriended by the doctor (Ian McKellen), because he plays chess, and helped by the squire, because he's a good worker. Amy's neck muscles perform tangos as she struggles to contain her emotions.

The squire's sister turns out to be Kathy Bates, which is quite a suprise, and Perez is allowed to keep his heavy metal hairstyle, which seems unusual for the times. Bell's performance, as an embittered man, is so strong you want more of him, and McKellen appears by kind permission of Anton Chekov. Beeban Kidron is not a country girl. Locations have been chosen by the tourist board. Neither Amy nor Yanko are explored in any depth, although Perez struggles manfully to bring himself to life. Weisz has an unusual beauty that suits Amy. There is little she can do but love in pain. She does more.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Love story between a servant girl and a Russian immigrant.
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Director: Beeban Kidron

Writer: Tim Willocks

Starring: Vincent Perez, Rachel Weisz, Ian McKellen, Joss Ackland, Kathy Bates, Tom Bell, Zoë Wanamaker, Tony Haygarth, Fiona Victory, William Scott-Masson, Eve Matheson

Year: 1997

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada / UK / USA

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