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A Handful of Dust Movie Review

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Many feel the reason for the transatlantic success of Dynasty and Brideshead Revisited is that nothing delights Britishers and Americans more than watching their overseas cousins commit upper-class suicide. It makes sense, especially when you realize that hours and hours devoted to poverty-stricken characters in unphotogenic surroundings seldom pack the same visual wallop. Nope, if we're going to watch people run themselves into the ground, let's also have the startling insight that all those palaces and spectacular estates can't possibly save them from themselves. As Brideshead Revisited showed, Evelyn Waugh was passionately in love with the exclusive aristocratic world he satirized in so many of his books. A Handful of Dust, based on Waugh's 1934 novel, provides more of the same rich and foolish twits, gorgeous and amoral wives, foolish pastimes that destroy the family heir, and the usual obligatory splendor as a backdrop. James Wilby, then 30, plays Lord Tony Last whose bride, Lady Brenda (Kristin Scott Thomas, then 28), develops a sudden craving to take an economics class, and we all know what THAT means. Faster than you can say “satin sheets,” Brenda is shown rolling in bed with a brainless, disloyal rotter named (of course) Beaver. The affair (of course) rocks the very foundations of what a proper upper-class marriage should be, but Brenda doesn't have to pay too high a price for her bad manners. For reasons that make very little sense, though, poor Tony winds up stuck in a Brazilian jungle, forced to read Dickens novels to a loonie played by Alec Guinness. It takes about two hours to plow through this well-acted London Weekend Television production, directed by Charles Sturridge, who also helmed Brideshead Revisited. There's one funny sequence when Lord Tony, eager to give the undeserving Lady Brenda grounds for divorce, dutifully trots off to a seaside hotel to stage his adultery with a woman who can't find anyone to take care of her little girl. Private detective John Junkin, irritated when all he sees is Lord Tony babysitting the kid on the pier and in the hotel dining room, patiently explains that, no, this isn't the way the game is played. The rest of the story is supposed to be hilarious too, and for those who believe that the rich are inherently cursed, it probably is—so if you enjoy this sort of fare, A Handful of Dust just may be your movie!

1988 (PG) 114m/C GB James Wilby, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rupert Graves, Alec Guinness, Anjelica Huston, Judi Dench, Cathryn Harrison, Pip Torrens, John Junkin; D: Charles Sturridge; W: Charles Sturridge, Tim Sullivan, Derek Granger; C: Peter Hannan; M: George Fenton. British Academy Awards ‘88: Best Supporting Actress (Dench); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘88: Best Costume Design. VHS

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