Top positive review
52 people found this helpful
A THINKING PERSON'S GHOST STORY...
on 17 November 2002
This is a superb, atmospheric ghost story that will have the viewer thinking right from the get go. There are things afoot here that go bump in the night, but it may not be what the viewer thinks.
On the Isle of Jersey, during the last days of World War II, a lovely, isolated mansion sits in the shrouding mists. The house is adequately, though sparsely, furnished. It is occupied by a mother, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), and her two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley). The children are afflicted with a great sensitivity to light, so much so that they must, at all times, have the curtains drawn and the shutters closed. Grace's husband, the children's father, had left them to fight in the war. This is a perfect and stark setting for what is to come.
One day, three strangers arrive on her doorstep. Grace presumes that they are there in response to her post for domestic help and hires Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), Edmund Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) on the spot. Grace instructs them on the ideosyncratic ways she has of handling her children's sensitivity to light. It soon becomes clear, however, that this triumvirate has their own agenda and are not strangers to this house.
Nicole Kidman give a remarkable performance in this film. Tightly wound and controlling, she appears to be a woman on the brink of a breakdown, holding herself together only by a great effort of will, as she awaits her husband's return. Her performance as a lonely wife and seemingly protective mother contributes greatly to the tense and suspenseful atmosphere in the household. While I am not generally a fan of Ms. Kidman's, finding her ice maiden demeanor to be too cool for my tastes, even I must agree that her performance in this film is superlative and contributes greatly to its overall success.
The children both give excellent performances. It is the young boy, James Bentley, however, who deserves special mention. He shines in the role of Nicholas, giving a sensitive performance that conveys his pervasive fear of what seems to be going on in the household. It is a poignant and moving performance that will capture the viewer's heart.
Christopher Eccleston is marvelous in the role of Grace's husband and the children's father, who returns all too briefly, like a deus ex machina, conveying an infinite and bitterweet sadness that only adds to the disturbing portents that seem to be gathering about the Stewart household. Eccleston is an outstanding actor who manages to contribute greatly to the film in this small, but pivotal, role.
It is, however, Fionnula Flanagan in the role of the mysterious housekeeper, Bertha Mills, who steals the show. She is like the voice crying in the wilderness to those who will not hear her message. Strong and commanding in her performance, it is she, and not Nicole Kidman, who is the backbone of this film. Her presence lends such an eerie and discordant note, that one feels her presence to be that of a harbinger of doom. Yet, things are not all that they seem in this household, as the ending has a surprising twist to it.
This wonderful and highly atmospheric ghost story is one that is sure to delight those appreciative of this genre of film. Intelligent and finely crafted, it reveals an eerie story borne of psychological despair and horror. Beautifully directed by Alejandro Amenabar, it succeeds where others have failed. Relying on well nuanced moments, rather than grotesque special effects, this is a film that is sure to withstand the test of time and emerge as a classic. Bravo!