A Handful of Dust 1988 Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Directed by Charles Sturridge. An excellent film. Meaty. English gentleman Tony Last (James Wilby) lives in one of the great houses with lovely wife Brenda (Kristin Scott Thomas) and their young son, John Andrew. They seem happy. Then mercenary gigolo, John Beaver (Rupert Graves) catches her eye. (Judi Dench plays his manipulative mother.) Brenda pursues and seduces him; secures a flat in London and travels back and forth. John is not as good looking, charming, cultured, sensitive or kind as Tony – there’s no accounting for taste. Everyone knows but her husband.
Brenda’s son, John Andrew, dies in a riding accident. Tony is bereft but more concerned about his wife. She pulls away, then asks for divorce – in order to marry John. Tony takes the noble stance and arranges to be photographed in bed with someone. Brenda demands so much money, he would have to sell the one thing dear to him, the family home. This simply cannot be allowed. Tony’s response, his actions are totally unexpected as are the consequences. Also featuring Pip Torrens, Anjelica Huston, Alec Guinness and Stephen Fry. Cinemax Trial or Pluto (free) with commercials.
The Horse Whisperer 1998 Based on the novel by Nicholas Evans. Directed by Robert Redford. Workaholic city woman Annie MacLean (Kristin Scott Thomas) drives her daughter Grace (a very young Scarlett Johansson) and Grace’s horse Pilgrim to the Montana Mountains. Grace survived an accident that killed her best friend and her horse, mangled Grace’s leg so badly it had to be partially amputated, and made Pilgrim uncontrollable. Annie feels her daughter’s recovery is linked to that of Pilgrim. She hopes “horse whisperer” Tom Booker (Robert Redford) is the solution. Tom agrees only if Grace will take part.
Mother and daughter move into a cabin on the ranch. Very gradually both Grace and Pilgrim heal. Watching Redford with both the girl and horse is transporting. In the process, Annie appreciates his less complicated, authentic life. She considers leaving a currently troubled marriage and stressful career to move out west with him. He wants her, but doesn’t press realizing how difficult the change would be. Husband Robert (Sam Neill) arrives to complicate Annie’s decision. A lovely film. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Random Hearts 1999 Directed by Sydney Pollack. Two victims of a plane crash unwittingly bring their spouses together. Police Sergeant William “Dutch” Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) loses his fashion editor wife, and Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas), a Congresswoman running for re-election, her lawyer husband on the same Miami flight. Oddly Mrs. Van Den Broek wasn’t registered under her own name. (It could be done then.) As she was sitting next to Kay’s husband, the sergeant makes assumptions and asks to meet Kay.
Despite Kay’s reservations, they meet at the Florida hotel where Dutch’s wife had been registered…and are drawn to one another. The burgeoning relationship is fraught and awkward affecting both lives negatively. Things eventually iron out, but not without toll. With Bonnie Hunt. Sydney Pollack, Richard Jenkins, Peter Cayote, Kate Mara. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Life As a House 2001 Directed by Irwin Winkler. I usually eschew formulaic hero/heroine dying films, but this one’s an exception. George Monroe, an architectural model fabricator (Kevin Kline), lives in an unsightly shack in an otherwise extremely upscale neighborhood. We assume the iconoclast spiraled after divorce from Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas). He’s an irritant to some of his neighbors, beloved by others. Robin remarried “up,” but her workaholic husband has none of George’s warmth or originality. She and George have one son, Sam (Hayden Christensen), who’s in uncontrollable, self-destructive rebellion.
Just when George gets fired, he’s told he’s dying of cancer. In order to connect with the alienated Sam, he insists the boy spend the summer with him, hopefully tearing down the shack and building a long-envisioned Arts and Crafts style home. The illness remains secret. Everyone’s lives gradually change. Notable characters include George’s quirky neighbors, Coleen Beck (Mary Steenburgen) and her precocious daughter, Alyssa (Jena Malone). You might just need Kleenex. Well written, well acted. Rent on Amazon Prime.
I’ve Loved You So Long 2008 Directed by Philippe Claudel. After 15 years in prison, former doctor Juliette Fontaine (Kristen Scott Thomas) is released to her younger sibling Léa’s family. Juliette’s father has not told Léa anything about the reason for her sister’s incarceration. He’s wary of Juliette’s return. Gradually, she begins to fit in and adjust, developing platonic relationships with two men, working as a secretary, growing close to her nieces. Everything is affected by her secret, however. We don’t learn the nature and reason of what seems a horrible crime until the end of the film. Compassion is elicited.
Derek Elley of Variety called the film “utterly engrossing despite being, on the surface, about very little.” Others have said, it veers between foreboding and sentimentality. Either way, Thomas’s interior approach holds. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Woman in the Fifth (La femme du Vème) 2012 In French and English. Adapted from a Douglas Kennedy novel. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Ostensibly coming out of mental illness, writer Tom Hicks (Ethan Hawke) moves to Paris to be near his daughter Chloe who’s living with his hostile ex-wife Isabella (Marcella Iacub). He takes a menial job and sets up in an affordable hostel where he beds its barmaid Ania (Joanna Kulig).
One day, Tom meets Margit Kadar (Kristen Scott Thomas), an elegant widow who controls every aspect of a fiery affair on which they embark – at her apartment in the 5th. A neighbor is murdered, Chloe goes missing, Margit was using a false name and can’t be used as an alibi. Rent on Amazon Prime.
My Old Lady Written and directed (his debut) by Israel Horovitz. Broke and at loose ends, Mathias (Kevin Kline) travels to Paris to sell an apartment inherited from his estranged father. He’s shocked to discover it’s a “viager,” legally occupied by stubborn Mathilde (Maggie Smith) and her brittle, unfriendly daughter, Chloé (Thomas) until the old lady dies. Allowed to stay if he pays rent, the American sells off furniture he finds in unused rooms.
Mathile, it seems, had a long, colorful, secret affair about which Mathias and Chloé eventually learn. At first suspicious and prickly, they bond. It all comes out well in the end. Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The English Patient can be found in Stream Selected Films of Ralph Feinnes
Top photo: Bigstock
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