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In a Dark Place

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Unsuccessful Attempt to Update Henry James' Classic Novella

    Hollywood is fond of updating classic tales: Shakespeare is the author most often reconfigured, at times with great success, at times not. The intellectually stimulating works of Henry James have been brought to the screen and making visual the inherently cerebral stories come to life. Such, sadly, is not the case for IN A DARK PLACE, a warping and distorted 'update' of one of the finest ghost stories ever written - James' 1898 TURN OF THE SCREW. Screenwriter Peter Waddington adapted the story to place in our faces fully realized interpretations of what James used as suggestion: James realized that the reader's mind could infuse his story with personal demons that would replace the need for detailed description. Cases in point: the Governess is here an art teacher given a name, Anna Veigh the occult sexual overtones of the story are played out in full view leaving little to the frightening aspects of James' intentions the concentration of the story on the governess' mental fragility is forced into clichés and placed in the hands of an actress unable to be subtle the 'interiority' of the mansion is replaced by equal time outside on the snowy grounds (opening up the story, so they say), etc. The story is well known, having been adapted successfully before by television, movies, and opera (Benjamin Britten's immensely well written opera TURN OF THE SCREW). Anna Veigh (Leelee Sobieski) is the art therapist turned governess who upon losing her job is hired to care for the children Flora (Gabrielle Adam) and Miles (Christian Olson) in a now deserted mansion whose only other occupant is the secretary/estate manager Ms. Grose (Tara Fitzgerald). Soon enough Anna discovers that the previous governess Miss Jessel (another art therapist who was three months pregnant) was found dead in the lake, and that the prior male butler Peter Quint hanged himself. Anna alone begins to see the ghosts of these newly departed servants, and when she explores the reasons with Ms. Grose we discover the Ms. Grose was in love with Miss Jessel and hated Peter Quint. Anna is frequently visited by nightmares of her own sexual abuse as a young girl and transfers these fears onto Flora and Miles, feeling that they were similarly abused - an explanation for their bizarre behavior patterns. Ms. Grose acts out her sexuality with Anna, confusing Anna even more, and stressing her vulnerable psyche into thinking she can exorcise the demons of the house. And the ending will surprise us all! Director Donato Rotunno needs to re-read the James novella and rely on the audience's intelligence more than to alter the story to become faddist and frank instead of subtle and suspenseful. A major problem with the casting is the far too frequently physically exposed Leelee Sobieski: it feels as though she is reading her rather pedestrian lines from a cue card off camera. It is a sad imitation of the governess. Tara Fitzgerald's Ms. Grose is not the obese, matronly of the original, but instead a very svelte and seductive woman: she succeeds in creating a credible alternative figure very well. The setting and photography are fine, but the musical score by Adam Pendse is a pedestrian mix of incongruous styles. In short, if you are a fan of Henry James, avoid this sloppy work. But then, if Leelee Sobieski is a favorite, then you see more of her as a grown woman than you probably will ever see again! Not Recommended. Grady Harp

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