The Governess

The Governess


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What is there to do in a cold Scottish castle, miles from the sound of dancing feet, but scream with boredom and think about sex? Perhaps well brought-up Victorian girls dream of romance and marriage. Not Rosina. She's Jewish, has a fearless attitude, unintimidated by class or gender, considering herself a match for any man and better than most.

After her beloved father is murdered in the streets of London, she goes out to work, to support the family, changes her name to one more gentile-friendly and takes up the post of governess to a little girl on the Isle of Skye. Her employer is a scientist, who spends his days on the beach with a camera, or locked away in a room, attempting to solve the problem of retaining a photographic image - what he calls "the fixation process". His wife (Harriet Walter) is a frustrated socialite, who makes small talk ("There's nothing nicer than a nice walk, is there?") sound threatening, and his son, Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an effete victim of poetic angst, behaves like a puppy in a field of gold.

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Sandra Goldbacher finds herself trapped by her own scenario. What else can happen here that isn't inevitably going to? Rosina doesn't seduce the scientist, rather allows him to feel her up. Meanwhile Henry becomes besotted and likes nothing better than to sneak into her room and smell her things. The motivation is availability and a lack of anything better to do, exaggerated by isolation and dull dining table conversation. She helps him with his work and imagines a future together, as partners and lovers. He suffers classic Calvinistic guilt traumas ("You consume me. I cannot be consumed.") and standard male dominance.

Minnie Driver has the best time. She is a positive performer, who loves to act. Her personality leaps to Rosina's side. There is no one else. Tom Wilkinson takes himself seriously, as if determined to make you forget he was in The Full Monty, which you can't quite, especially when he strips to the buff. The scientist is rather dry, even sad, terrified of losing control, and Wilkinson is excellent at exposing the reality of repressed emotion. For all its qualities, the film lacks surprise. In the end, you know how it will end. And you don't want to.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A Jewish woman passes herself off as a gentile to secure work as a governess, only to become embroiled in an affair as a heart.
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Director: Sandra Goldbacher

Writer: Sandra Goldbacher

Starring: Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Harriet Walter, Florence Hoath, Bruce Myers, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Arlene Cockburn, Emma Bird, Adam Levy, Countess Koulinskyi, Diana Brooks

Year: 1998

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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