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The Governess Movie Review

driver rosina goldbacher cavendish

Rosina Da Silva is a fiercely independent young Sephardic Jewish woman, who has spent all her life with her loving family in London, circa 1840. When tragedy strikes, Rosina must earn money to support them. She has always wanted to be a great actress, but impersonating a gentile governess named Mary Blackchurch wasn't quite the role she had in mind. Harsh times call for harsh measures and Rosina/Mary resolutely leaves her much-loved home for the Isle of Skye to play governess to little Clementina Cavendish (FairyTale's delightful Florence Hoath). This is the premise of Sandra Goldbacher's The Governess, starring the vibrant Minnie Driver in the title role. Gothic conventions are strictly observed; Clementina must be a irrepressible imp determined to torture Miss Blackchurch until she recognizes who's boss. There must also be a delicate, fluttery Mrs. Cavendish (the wonderful Harriet Walter) who clearly hasn't slept with her husband in a while. And Mr. Charles Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson) must be a brooding, mysterious man of few words with a certain scruffy erotic appeal. There doesn't always have to be an odd son lusting after the governess, but this movie has one, with all the trimmings (Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry Cavendish). If you've seen Jane Eyre, you know what happens next—the variation on a theme here is that Charles is a pioneer in the infant art of photography. His work is the most interesting thing happening on the desolate isle, and Rosina soon shares his obsession, which leads to all sorts of shenanigans, of course. The charm of The Governess resides in the capable hands of Minnie Driver. Like the young Bette Davis, she dominates every frame in which she appears and that's practically the entire 114-minute running time. Whether she's conveying her aching loneliness for her own family, her unflappability in her sequences with the mischievous Clementina, or her growing attachment to her mentor Charles, Driver is an actress of enormous skill, sensuality, and power. Director Goldbacher makes an impressive debut: her vision of the early Victorian era is strikingly free of the most obvious cliches and costume designer Caroline Harris clearly had fun finding a way for Minnie Driver to wear black leather.

1998 (R) 114m/C Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Harriet Walter, Florence Hoath, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Arlene Cockburn, Emma Bird, Adam Levy, Bruce Meyers; D: Sandra Goldbacher; W: Sandra Goldbacher; C: Ashley Rowe; M: Ed Shearmur. VHS, Closed Caption, DVD

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