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Century Movie Review

dance owen medical poliakoff

Century is everything The Age of Innocence wanted to be and wasn't: an atmospheric recreation of the mood and feeling of a vanished time. Martin Scorsese tried to accomplish this with an extravagant budget and extended close-ups of lavish meals. But money and food, however useful in real life, shouldn't have the burden of stealing scenes from the actors. With a much smaller budget, writer/director Stephen Poliakoff has kept the focus where it belongs in Century, on the superb cast who interpret his excellent screenplay. As we approach the 21st century, we find ourselves evaluating the last few years of the 20th. Which of our customs and traditions will survive and endure, which will be hermetically sealed in this era and rendered obsolete by the year 2001? The progressive doctor, played with languid charm by Charles Dance, is a man who appears far ahead of the late 19th century, but, in fact, his influence is forever trapped within it because of a fatal flaw. The young medical student earnestly played by Clive Owen is inspired by Dance's character, but ultimately disillusioned by him. His immigrant father, wonderfully played by the late Robert Stephens (1931–95), wants to give a spectacular welcome to the new age in his adopted country, even though his neighbors in the British countryside avoid and distrust him because of his Eastern European background. And the shimmering Miranda Richardson, as one of the women employed in Dance's medical institute, is determined to make a free-spirited life for herself, regardless of the obstacles. The conflict between Dance and Owen is at the heart of the film: Dance hires women (and one black man) to work at his institute and treats them with respect. He gives his students valuable training and the chance to learn on the job. He even encourages Owen's independent medical research, as long as he and everyone else recognizes who's in charge. But Dance has his own murky agenda, carefully concealed from the wealthy benefactress who backs the institute (the great Joan Hickson, seen all too briefly in two marvelous sequences with Owen). After the frustrated Owen discovers what Dance is really up to, he enlists Richardson's help and graduates from devoted admirer to fierce adversary. The battle is only partly successful; the fledgling medical pioneer loses valuable research opportunities by taking on the system that once nurtured him. And that, in a way, is the point of Century; however much we rage against the inequities in our own time, it will always have the edge on us. Poliakoff and cast drive this concept home with fresh and startling meaning.

1994 (R) 112m/C GB Clive Owen, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Robert Stephens, Joan Hickson, Lena Headey, Neil Stuke; D: Stephen Poliakoff; W: Stephen Poliakoff; C: Witold Stok; M: Michael Gibbs. VHS

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