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The White Countess (2005)

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, more...
Director: James Ivory, James Ivory
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Sony Pictures
Genre: Drama, Costume Drama/Period Piece
Running Time: 136 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French
    see additional details...

James Ivory directed this historical drama of a man who has shut himself away from a world he cannot change. Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) is an American expatriate living in Shanghai in the late '30s. While Jackson was once an American diplomat who came to Shanghai with great optimism about China's future, the bitter political squabbling and military violence that are a part of daily life in China caused him to become bitterly disillusioned. Jackson also lost most of his sight, and he has retreated into Shanghai's decadent underworld of bars and brothels rather than face the world. When a wager on a horse race wins Jackson a small fortune, he decides to indulge a long-time fancy and build the perfect Shanghai bar, one that would ideally reflect that corrupt beauty of the city, and he is joined in his project by Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada), a Japanese man with a mysterious past and an appreciation for Shanghai's underbelly. While assembling his pet project, Jackson meets Sofia (Natasha Richardson), a Russian countess who fled her home during the revolution and now lives in Shanghai, supporting her family as a dance-hall girl and occasional prostitute. In Sofia, Jackson discovers a fusion of beauty and tragedy that fascinates him, and he asks her to become the hostess at his new bar. As Jackson becomes closer to Sofia, his cynicism begins to wear away and he develops a deep concern for Sofia and her family. The White Countess also co-stars Vanessa Redgrave, and Lynn Redgrave -- respectively Natasha Richardson's mother and aunt. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

The Last of Merchant/Ivory by talltale June 4, 2006 - 8:22 PM PDT
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Ralph Fiennes gives another of his fine performances in Merchant/Ivory's last collaboration THE WHITE COUNTESS, and he is supported by a top-notch cast, including--among more than a dozen terrific actors--Vanessa Redgrave, Madeline Potter, Hiroyuki Sanada and Lee Pace ("Soldier's Girl"). Never uninteresting, this story of the polyglot community of foreigners in Shanghai, including displaced Russian royalty, just prior to WWII is unusual and moving--though probably too slow-moving for many audiences.

The screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro manages to include a lot of characters, events and back story, along with rather too much unbelievable exposition (the first scene with the Russian émigrés is chock-a-block with it) and his organization sometimes veers close to soap opera. Still, the story and performances command enough attention to carry us forward, and as ever with Merchant/Ivory, the locations, sets and cinematography (here, by the great Christopher Doyle) are enticing.

Though not top-level M/I, the film is quite good enough. This team will be sorely missed by many of us (Ismael Merchant died this past year), and it will be interesting to see what James Ivory does on his own (he's approaching 80, so perhaps we should not expect too much).

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.67)
30 Votes
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