Directed by Jon Amiel, Sommersby is adapted from the historical account of 16th Century French peasant Martin Guerre. It was previously filmed as The Return of Martin Guerre in 1982. It stars Richard Gere, Jodie Foster and Bill Pullman. Music is by Danny Elfman and cinematography by Philippe Rousselot.
In simple terms the film is about a man (Jack Sommersby) who went off to war and was presumed dead by his wife (Laurel) and the village folk of the village where he lived. Some 9 years later he returns a changed man, back in the marital bed and a hero to the village. But then questions start to crop up and it becomes a possibility that this man may not after all be who he claims to be. Sounds bizarre for sure, yet it's a true story, and a fascinating one at that.
For this American version we get top line production values across the board, with the film propelled with grace and skill by Gere and Foster in the lead roles of Jack and Laurel Sommersby. Director Amiel rightly uses the slow burn approach, a consideration to the art of story telling. This draws the viewer firmly into the post Civil War period and lets us get to know the principal players and their surroundings.
The core narrative thrust is a moving romance, one consistently under pressure of a mystery to be proved or disproved. But there's also economic issues to hand, very much so, and the vile stench of racism still hangs in the air. There's a lot going on in Sommersby and it never sags because of it. Also refreshing that in spite of some critical grumblings in some quarters, the ending is potent and not very Hollywood at all.
It's not flawless and although it's based on a true story, some suspension of disbelief is needed as regards physical appearance of Jack and his means and motives. Yet this is a lovely film, simple in story telling structure, beautifully photographed and performed, it very much feels and plays like a classic era period piece. 8/10