Making Dante's Dream come true.

26 Feb 2015

Effie Gray review

It's not every day that we can review Pre-Raphaelite related cultural products, and when I knew the release date of 'Effie Gray' (2014) after so many months waiting for it, I watched it as soon as I could! I have to say I had heard horrible things about the film, because it had been shown in theatres later last year in the UK mainly, I think, but the rest of the world couldn't contrast all these opinions. I must say I was excited and scared to watch this because of all the fuzz it had created between bad reviews and the lawsuit delaying its release. Anyway, here we go (this is fairly spoiler free).

I never understood this poster so much. While the connection of the arguably most famous Millais painting and the 'future' Mrs Millais is evident, I don't really see the importance of Ophelia here. I imagine they wanted to give some 'context' to the art Ruskin is writing about, but the Brotherhood is not really featured that much in the film. A general overview of what the movement aimed for is discussed while the main characters are dining (photo below). 

Stuff that I liked was Emma Thompson (what's not to like?) playing Lady Eastlake, which is someone we rarely see in biopics and such. Being the wife of the director of the criticised Royal Academy and an Art Historian herself, she should have been portrayed as more than Effie's confident, but I guess the focus here is Effie so I fear I'm asking too much. 

I also appreciated that Ruskin wasn't depicted as the typical pedantic fop we have seen in screen other times (see Mr.Turner, although I enjoyed that film anyway). The way he is shown here doesn't allow for much sympathy but at least some reasons are given for his dislike developed towards his wife. This has always been a difficult subject because it was a huge scandal at the time too but this film doesn't fall into the caricature genre as many others have. We always have to remember this man shaped how we see Art criticism today and that we'll probably never know the actual reasons that prevented him to get intimate with his wife. The way 'the main issue' was handled was of much better taste that we are used to. 

Definitely not one of my favourite costumes

It was a pleasant surprise that the film explored female sexuality too. Not only having children is discussed but also the viewer sees how different Effie feels towards Millais. Nowadays, female sexuality is basically erased from media and what we mainly see is subjected to the male gaze. Sure, nothing got too explicit here but it was a fresh breath of air to get that on screen. 

On the contrary, the lack of a 'romantic' climax let me down. I honestly didn't know the film was ending right there when it did and when the credits rolled I was shocked. I was expecting a bit more development on Effie's life after she filed for annulment, maybe that she had a ton of children and such?

The costuming was a bit off in my opinion, Emma Thompson totally looked Edwardian and I couldn't understand Effie wearing her hair down all the time (but that is asking too much again I guess). It got slightly better when they were in Scotland, while Millais painted the so famous portrait of Ruskin. She wore more hats and it felt more accurate than what was seen in the first half of the film. As always, men's costumes are way better than women's where more 'artistic licence' is allowed, which is something quite annoying.

Reproduction of the Millais painting by Alexander Newley

Dakota Fanning (Effie) played her part really well and Greg Wise (Ruskin) was so good at not falling into satire as I said before, but oh my, he is around 27 years her senior! In real life they married when she was around 20 and he was about 29 (not that a crazy age difference, even for today). In fact, that is the exact age difference between Dakota and Tom Sturridge (playing Millais) when actually they were about the same age. So yeah, acting was cool but casting in the age department wasn't that much on point. 

Aah! This dress is way prettier!

So what's my point? Could've been better but could've been WAY worse. As an avid period drama consumer I was sufficiently entertained but this is not going to be one of my favourite films. 

PS. I noticed Millais was always called Everett, never John, I suppose that was done to avoid confusing people with so many Johns? I always imagined close people would call him John, does anyone know? 

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised by how they made Millais look and behave so different to how he was, more like a young Rossetti. Millais was always clean shaven, short-haired, neat, tidy etc. In Desperate Romantics they call him Johnny but that's not the most reliable source as we know! Incidentally, I thought Tom Hollander was v good as Millais in Desperate Romantics, closer in age and v repressed!