Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When three hours feels too much and yet not enough to tell the story right, something's not working. Like, maybe, the movie should never have been made. Toni Morrison won the Nobel prize for literature on the back of this novel, which must be one of the finest works of fiction in the history of the Negro nation. Invoking ghosts and spirits, as well as the worst excesses of slavery, the book is layered with memory and dirt black suffering on a scale that tips the mind over the edge, so that pain is reborn, as dead babies are reborn, into another place, where the imagination breeds monsters and angels.

Such complexity, style and originality requires a director of Sergei Eisenstein's vision. A clutch of writers and Jonathan Demme (The Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia) try hard to make sense of what is a stream of consciousness, running like a river through three generations, and come up with a confused tale of a lunatic girl's influence over a runaway slave and her teenage daughter.

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Oprah Winfrey bought the rights to the book when it was published and has been trying ever since to set the film up. Her conviction and commitment is not in doubt. Her acting skills are. She gives a careful, sympathetic, oddly static performance, as the tormented mother, unlike Danny Glover, as her friend from the bad slave days, who moves into her haunted house. He brings the film alive whenever he is there.

Thandie Newton, as the mad girl who may, or may not, be the spirit of the dead baby, Beloved, now grown, is vital to understanding Morrison's conception. She plays it full blown, too self-consciously physical to become anything but caricature. Demme should have reined her in. Morrison told the British actress, "Beloved is the You in you." Obviously, she took this to mean "let it all hang out", when it should have been something to do with stilllness.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Beloved packshot
A slave is visited by the spirit of her dead daughter.
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Director: Jonathan Demme

Writer: Toni Morrison

Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise

Year: 1999

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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