Far From Heaven

Far From Heaven

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Imagine a Fifties musical without songs, New England in the fall when trees are a riot of colour, the ladies of the town dressed in cocktail frocks all day long and the kids saying, "Gee shucks!", while doing what they are told.

Cathy (Julianne Moore) has a coloured maid (Viola Davis), whom she treats with respect. The maid's other life, outside the house, where her family resides, is avoided as a topic of conversation.

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Cathy's husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a successful businessman who plays golf at the weekend and works hard. Their two children don't see much of him, which is sad. Cathy explains that daddy is important to his firm and comes home tired.

She is an example to them all, beautifully turned out, impeccably well-mannered, thoughtful and kind, even to negroes, which sets tongues wagging. She gives parties, contributes to a number of charitable causes, would never allow herself to complain, even when Frank forgoes love making and starts drinking more than might be expected of a sales executive in his position.

Unlike her friends, she is neither a snob, nor a gossip, and makes a point of getting to know Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), their new gardener. Her sympathy for what others call "the underclass" is genuine. She has a ready smile for all and never thinks the worst of anyone.

Writer/director Todd Haynes (Poison, Velvet Goldmine) exaggerates the social conformity of a small, perfectly manicured town, during the Eisenhower years, when the words "rights" and "civil" have not yet been joined and the concept of sexual intercourse between men-in-suits is so far beyond the realms of probability that some might consider it a phantom perversion.

The film appears to have been created by the design department, with help from Elmer Bernstein whose score has been tastefully composed to blend in, providing a stylised ambience that emphasises the minutiae of a life so claustrophobic that real feelings have detonators attached.

Moore's performance is heart-stoppingly wonderful. Cathy has to confront the truth about Frank's sexuality, as well as contain a surging tenderness for Raymond in a society too prejudiced to question its racial attitudes. This is acting at a level of subtlety that blurs the difference between pretence and commitment.

Because of her, heaven seems closer.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2003
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Sexuality and stigma in 1950s America.
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Read more Far From Heaven reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Todd Haynes

Starring: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Bette Henritze

Year: 2002

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

All That Heaven Allows
The Hours