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Enchanted April Movie Review

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In the 1980s, Mike Newell was best known for his work on tough, gritty projects like Blood Feud, Dance with a Stranger, and The Good Father. Enchanted April, a delicate comedy of manners and wishful thinking at best, seemed an odd choice for this hard-hitting director. Based on a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim (who was the Countess Russell in real life), Enchanted April was a resounding flop when Harry Beaumont first filmed it for RKO studios in 1935. Ann Harding portrayed a middle-aged Shirley Temple who brought joy into every life she touched, with the notable exception of the audience. In 66 interminable minutes, Harding was able to lure back her straying husband, Frank Morgan, bring two young lovers together, patch up the marriage of Kay Alexander and Reginald Owen, AND warm the heart of a gruff old lady played by Jessie Ralph. Unsurprisingly, Ralph and Owen stole every sequence they were in, and, equally unsurprisingly, Enchanted April brought Ann Harding's reign as grande dame of the RKO lot to a grinding halt. The new version of Enchanted April is a VAST improvement over the original, which is not to say that it will succeed in bringing joy into every life it touches. The Ann Harding role this time around is played by comedienne Josie Lawrence, who at least is able to bring a down-to-earth foundation to the endless whimsicality of her character. Miranda Richardson seems more uncomfortable in a repressed role, although she does her best with it. In the role of the aristocratic beauty who was originally played by the serenely lovely Jane Baxter, Polly Walker tries hard as Lady Caroline Dester, but she looks and sounds like a contemporary punk, nothing at all like a 1922 deb chafing at the bit. The male parts are much less crucial, but Michael Kitchen comes off best as Mr. Briggs, a shell-shocked vet turned landlord, who can barely distinguish between one discontented tenant and another. Briggs is interesting as a representative of the dwindling romantic choices open to British women of the early 1920s. Many of their generation's most dazzling charmers had been blown to bits in World War I and the men who were left, like Briggs, were irreversibly changed. Enchanted April may mean less to California audiences than to British viewers, used to the cold rain and a relentless parade of twits. For four women (including the scene-stealing Joan Plowright) to flower in the very villa where von Arnim wrote her novel clearly might have meant something to 1922 readers, but it meant nothing at all to 1935 moviegoers and will probably be regarded as a mere historical curiosity today. One can only hope that the works of von Arnim will not be run into the ground by filmmakers like every syllable of E. M. Forster has been over the last decade. P.S. If you're truly enthralled by von Arnim, 1944's Mr. Skeffington with Bette Davis and Claude Rains (all 146 minutes of it!) is also available on video.

1992 (PG) 93m/C GB Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, Josie Lawrence, Polly Walker, Alfred Molina, Jim Broadbent, Michael Kitchen, Adriana Fachetti; D: Mike Newell; W: Peter Barnes; C: Richard Maidment; M: Richard Rodney Bennett. Golden Globe Awards ‘93: Best Actress—Musical/Comedy (Richardson), Best Supporting Actress (Plowright); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘92: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Supporting Actress (Plowright). VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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