It tells the story of the troubled relationship between the American poet, T.S. Eliot, and his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood.
The film is boring, lacking a clear sense of directing and doing no justice to the character by presenting it in a more cartoonish way. The best in show is by far Rosemary Harris giving a touching performance as Viv’s mother and the original score and costume design also feel just right. Other than that, I don’t recommend it.
Miranda Richardson as Vivienne Haigh-Wood
Miranda plays Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a real-life figure, the eccentric, maybe emotionally-troubled first wife of poet T.S. Eliot. Her story starts when she’s in her 20s, a passionate rich woman, with lots of health problems, living in England during WWI. She marries Eliot and they have a long, bumpy marriage, which ends with him declaring her mentally unstable and locking her away.
The role sounds like a lot of fun and it IS a juicy role, but I could also clearly see the misogyny and one-crazy-note all over the screenplay. Truth is, Viv wasn’t as wacky as they’ve written her and, even if I’d ignore facts from the real life, you can clearly see how uncomfortably over-the-top they are with the character at times. Both Eliot AND the screenplay treat Viv badly for the most of the film, and it’s for Miranda to pick up the pieces and try to bring some humanity.
But I don’t want to make it sound like it’s ALL to the screenplay’s fault. I think Miranda had some choices to make and she could’ve shifted the performance more towards the safer side. However, she made the choice of doing the extremes, and for most of it, it didn’t help. I am not talking about bad acting, but except for a handful of scenes, the character created by Miranda is quite dislikeable – and she’s not even the villain.
So let’s talk a bit about the eccentricities. There’s a lot of shouting, some fake crying and a ton of mood swings. Sometimes, when’s she’s acting crazy, she manages to be quite funny: the chocolate scene for example – I smiled, but I also knew these cartoonish acts dehumanize the character and don’t help with the overall performance.
And I go back to the same old dilemma: I know this is what she’s supposed to play, because this is what’s on paper, this IS the character they’ve prepared for her. Miranda is never bad, but I cannot pretend that I’m enjoying the performance, even though it IS meant to be unpredictable and over-the-top. A lot (!) of actresses get shitty roles, but somehow they manage to spin it around. Miranda brings good stuff to the character, but she could’ve done more. And here’s where she does succeed:
There were 2 sides/moments with Viv that I’ve enjoyed. First, it’s her honest friendship with Louise, an ordinary girl. In a couple of minutes, Miranda shows us why she enjoys this stranger’s presence: Louise is probably the only person who really respects Viv and doesn’t see her as this crazy woman, which in fact she really isn’t. There’s a vulnerability in Miranda’s eyes when in her presence, that struck something in me and for seconds I felt like I understood who Viv really was.
The other highlight of the performance is the final 2-3 scenes, with the aging Viv in the asylum. Her dignity, her simplicity are both heartbreaking especially in the scene between Viv and her brother. There’s no crying from her, no shouting, but it’s definitely the most powerful, human, haunting moment of the performance and of the film. If only there would’ve been more scenes like this.
And I could go on, but the truth is: to me it’s a flawed performance, because of the way the character’s constructed and because Miranda should’ve pulled it more to the sanity side. I honestly think that any other good or great actress could’ve done the same ok job, and that’s the simplest way to put it. A strong which could’ve gone to a 3.