UP AT THE VILLA
Review by Gordon Justesen
Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy
Director: Philip Haas
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.78:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: USA Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: October 24, 2000
At the Villa is
a lavishly produced tale set in the old English days about people with manners
and the consequences of putting those manners at risk. Directed by Philip Haas,
the movie is based upon the novel by classic author Somerset Maugham, is a tale
of complicated romances among the upper class during the last days before the
outbreak of World War II. The movie surrounds itself around a group of British
expatriates in Florence.
The villa of the title is run by Thomasí
character, Mary Parton. Mary is widowed woman in her mid-30s. She lost her
husband to a life of gambling and alcohol abuse that resulted in his demise. She
soon gets a visit from an old friend, Sir Edgar Swift (James Fox), who comes to
propose marriage to her. It might seem odd, but he has a good reason. He is soon
to be Governor of Bengal, and if Mary accepts his proposal she will become First
Lady of British Society in Calcutta. Mary is somewhat intrigued by the sudden
offer, but she requests some time to think it over. She knows for sure that she
isnít in love with Sir Edgar, but it does promise her a life worth living.
Mary gains some insightful knowledge on
how to deal with the situation from Principessa San Ferdinando, played by Anne
Bancroft. She confesses to Mary that she got married strictly for security and
took in lovers on a regular basis. Not too long after the proposal, Mary meets
an American named Flint (Sean Penn), who is a married man. Flint attempts to
make a pass at Mary, but she turns him down, only to later have an encounter
with an Austrian violinist (Jeremy Davies), who she ends up bedding that night,
giving him a night to remember, which resembles a night of passion that occurred
once in Principessaís life. From this point on, the story begins to take some
real unexpected turns that are too neat to have me reveal.
There was a period a few years back when
Hollywood was in the Jane Austen moviemaking machine, and that period has ceased
for the moment, but Up at the Villa has the look and field of an Austen
tale, though it is set a few dozen years down the road from when her stories
took place. These are very complicated characters that Maugham had created, many
of which have numerous secret agendas hidden underneath other agendas. Kristin
Scott Thomas is dynamic and elegant as a woman whoís uncertain of what it is
she wants, other than security and wealth in life. As for Sean Penn, I was a
little let down to see him in such an underused role. Iím so used to seeing
Penn in rich, multi-layered roles, and yet the role of Flint isnít played out
to that length. If youíre like me, and were blown away by Pennís
characterizations in such films as Carlitoís Way, Casualties of War, and
especially Hurlyburly, chances are you will be slightly disappointed.
I still praise the glamorous look to the
film. Director Philip Haas gives the movie a most elegant and appropriate look
and feel. Thereís certainly nothing terribly bad about the film, except that I
guess I expected a little more from it than I got. Without a doubt, the
well-meaning Up at the Villa gets a mixed review.
USA Home Entertainment gives a modest transfer for this release. The anamorphic presentation is lively for most of the viewing, although I did notice some occasional grain midway through the viewing, as well what appeared to be a little color bleeding late in the film, but other than that, I found it to be a decent presentation.
Itís fair to note that Up at the
Villa is made up of dialogue and nothing much else, so itís rather
difficult to rate the audio quality. The disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1
track, as well as that of a Dolby Surround 2.0 track. The 5.1 presentation does
what it can, and for the most part all of the spoken words are delivered clearly
Only a very brief trailer, as well as cast information and filmographies.
Up at the Villa earns deserved credit for the good look that it has, as well as terrific work by Kristin Scott Thomas, but as mentioned earlier, I simply expected much more from the film, particularly more screen time for Pennís character to develop. A rare case of a mixed review for me.