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The Last September

Rated [R], 103 minutes
Starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Keeley Hawes
Screenplay by John Banville
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen
Directed by Deborah Warner

IN SHORT: For the arthouse. Better for rental.

Welcome to County Cork, 1920. That would be after the time of "The Troubles" detailed in Michael Collins; in the period when the English Army and the Irish Republicans were still battling for control of the Irish countryside. The big losers in this war are the Ascendancy, English gentry and former Lords of the Land who, after hundreds of years of occupancy, consider themselves Irish. The other tribe of Eire, of course, consider these folk to be English and want them to go back where they came from. Since where they came from is Ireland, you can see the cultural problems looming.

But balancing cultural differences against army action and a blooming relationship that puts both of the aforementioned things in conflict is a mighty difficult thing to do. That's why novels are huge. That's why screen adaptations, most of the time, come up short. Such is the case of The Last September and, even as we ignore the Source Material as a baseline comparison, we can tell stuff got lost.

As The Last September begins, we see a young couple of obvious monetary plenitude. Lois Farquar (Keeley Hawes) dances down the rural avenue of the estate run by Sir Richard (Michael Gambon) and Lady Myra Naylor (Maggie Smith), flirtatious pheromones pouring from every pore. Laurence Carstairs (Jonathan Slinger) follows. Behind the pair is a burly handyman (Tom Hickey), carrying the portable Victrola which is pumping out an Al Jolson tune. Back at the estate, eyebrows are raised at this flirtation, which Lois pooh poohs because she is her uncle's niece and Carstairs is her (Lois') aunt's nephew.

Nope, makes no sense to Cranky, either. Either something didn't make it from the pages of the novel by Elizabeth Bowen or these Ascendant Irish-English don't know diddle about genealogy. Anyway, Lois is more interested in the Army Captain Gerald Colthurst (David Tennant) as a suitor, though Lady Myra will see that this person with no money dispatched post haste. While Sir Richard knows darn well that this year will be the last, Lady Myra is content to believe that the English will continue to rule this small part of the Empire. Danielstown, aka The Big House, is chock full of guests, including Hugo and Francie Montmorency (Lambert Wilson and Jane Birkin), who have sold their estate and are looking for a suitably luxurious place to squat, and Marda Norton (Fiona Shaw) who still harbors a major attraction for Hugo. Marda is suitably engaged to a man in London, but still hopes she can insert herself between Hugo and his wife.

The last guest is an unwanted one. Hiding in an old mill house on the estate is Peter Connolly (Gary Lydon), an IRA fugitive wanted for the murder of an English Army officer. While the Army keeps an eye on Connolly's parent's house, he is being tended to surreptitiously by Lois -- who still finds herself attracted to the boy she grew up with, all the while knowing that aiding the fugitive could get her put to death.

The story arc of that particular trio is easy to follow. Problem is, and this is just a dumb kid from Brooklyn talking, that the story arcs of the supporting characters aren't clear and, even with dialog explaining why each is staying at Danielstown, there's no great sense that any of their particular stories matter. If Lois is truly meaning to see if any kind of spark still exists between her and Hugo, it isn't apparent. Hugo's wife, Francie is as meek and nonexistent as the proverbial fly on the wall. As for the elderly Lord and Lady Naylor, even with the minute amount of screen time they receive, they firmly establish the background of the tale, and Smith's performance is (as usual) head and tails above all else as she brings the full weight of English class consciousness crashing down on the head of the poor Captain.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Last September, he would have paid...


Rent, even if you're into this kind of flick.

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