movieThemes: Alan Rickman
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THE WINTER GUEST (1997)

Cast: Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson, Gary Hollywood, Arlene Cockburn, Sheila Reid, Sandra Voe, Douglas Murphy, Sean Biggerstaff
Director: Alan Rickman
Producers: Ken Lipper, Edward R. Pressman, Steve Clark-Hall
Screenplay: Sharman Macdonald and Alan Rickman
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Music: Michael Kamen
Approximate Running Time: 109 Minutes
Warnings: Some swearing, nudity, adult themes
Rating:

Category: Drama

The Plot: A frigid, wind blows through a remote Scottish fishing village on the borders of a frozen sea. But the lives of eight of its inhabitants are warm and a stark contrast to the desolate backdrop. A feisty mother and daughter set off for a walk in the harsh conditions, a teenage boy allows himself to be led by a strange new girl, two boys play truant on the beach, and two old ladies spontaneously jump on a bus to attend the funeral of someone they once knew. Throughout the film, the characters flirt with taboos imposed upon them by society and themselves. As the day progresses, they all struggle with their inner demons, seeking a release in from the daily black and white existence they live.

Comment: This is Alan Rickman's debut as a film director, and he has played a part in this film from its inception. The idea first came to him 10 years ago, when he was playing Valmont in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" on Broadway. There he spent hours listening to co-star Lyndsay Duncan talk about the onset of Alzheimer's in her aging mother. He put Lyndsay in touch with the playwright, Sharman Macdonald who wrote the script for the play, The Winter Guest. With little assistance by Rickman, they play was brought to the big screen. In a brilliant piece of casting, Emma Thompson is paired with her real-life mother, Phyllida Law.

If one is expecting an action-packed performance reminiscent of Rickman in his villainous roles, they will be disappointed. What emerges is a tender film with no real beginning or end. It is just one day in the life of the individuals portrayed here.

The setting is cold, bleak and beautiful in a stark kind of way. How any of the cast played roles with no gloves on, I don't know... But, Rickman contrasts the black and white landscape with scenes of color and warmth to reflect the prevailing emotions portrayed by the characters.

Phyllida Law plays the feisty mother, Elspeth, of recently-widowed daughter, Frances (Emma Thompson). Both Law and Thompson are wonderful at portraying this relationship - being both crotchety with eachother but displaying the undercurrent of love and respect all the time. Law is compelling as the mother who doesn't want to give in to her aging body, and is absolutely believable as her moods swing from irascibility, anger, to love and friendship. Emma Thompson is VERY different here - having cut her hair off for the role, appears naked in a bath and convincingly delivers massive mood swings as she deals with her characters grief.

The richness and warmth of the characters in the raw and battered landscape will touch you heart and linger in your mind afterwards, making up for the lack of speed with which the film unfolds.

And for the Rickman fan's out there, keep an eye out for a heavily rugged up and out-of-focus and obscured cameo by Rickman early on as he bumps into the two old women...

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