4 Stars
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft, Robert De Niro, Hank Azaria
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 1hr 51mins
Opening Date: April 17

Hope springs eternal…

It's hard to imagine a more unlikely source for this quirky, stylish romance than Charles Dickens's 1861 novel. Yet the film, from the Mexican director who brought us Like Water for Chocolate and A Little Princess, is surprisingly close to the spirit of the Victorian original. With the story transposed from 1860s London to contemporary Florida and New York, the film is a seductive, startling tragedy of unobtainable love that refuses to expose its literary origins. Indeed, this is a most cinematic venture, the exquisite photography of Emmanuel Lubezki soaking in the ethereal light of Florida's Sarasota Bay and lingering over the elegant curves of Gwyneth Paltrow's neck and thighs.
'Seductive' is certainly the most befitting adjective to define the film's complex themes, whether it be the exotic coastal locations, the tantalizing kisses of Estella or, for Finn, the lure of money and success.
A keen and capable artist, young Finn is out sketching fish when he is jumped on by a ferocious ogre of a man (De Niro in Cape Fear mode), who turns out to be an escaped convict. Threatening Finn with his life, the fugitive demands bolt cutters from the terrified boy, who duly delivers the goods that evening. Later, Finn helps the man to escape from the police, only to see him sentenced to death by lethal injection on the TV news.
Shortly afterwards, Finn's life takes a dramatic turn when he is invited to visit the overgrown, run-down mansion of one Ms Nora Dinsmoor (Bancroft), an eccentric old crone driven mad by her fiancé's disappearing act on her wedding day. Now dedicated to the collective downfall of the male gender, Ms Dinsmoor sets Estella, her contemptuous 10-year-old protégé, on Finn, knowing that the boy will be unable to resist the girl's charms - and suffer from a broken heart.
With Paltrow playing the adult Estella, the film is a gift to all Gwyneth groupies. Until now cast in a variety of nice and sensible parts, the actress here is allowed to employ her physical charms to devastating and destructive effect. I don't know about you, but my dreams will never be the same again.

By James Cameron-Wilson

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