Sinead Cusack

Uncovered (1994, Jim McBride)

With irregular fade outs, elevator muzak for a score, bad direction and a British cast pretending to be Spanish, Uncovered plays like a mix between a British television movie and a–Canadian–after school special (albeit one with a European approach to nudity). I’ve read the source novel, an intricate thriller, and this filmic adaptation is absent any suspense. That lack is a combination of elements. First, Jim McBride directs with less enthusiasm than a Pringles commercial. He avoids Barcelona scenery and actually makes the choice to flash back to the fifteen century. It’s like he was desperate to sell the finished product to a television network. The film has a few interesting moments–the art restoration scenes–but McBride brings nothing to it.

The next problem is that score. According to IMDb, Philippe Sarde has an inordinately prolific career (around two hundred films). Based on his work for Uncovered, I imagine only three of them aren’t atrocious.

So the combination of McBride and Sarde make Uncovered incredibly problematic, but with good direction and an acceptable score, could the film survive the production philosophy? Possibly.

The production philosophy is simple and unbelievably stupid. Uncovered requests the viewer ignore accents and ethnicity. It asks the viewer to ignore John Wood is British, it asks the viewer to pretend heavily accented Irishman Paudge Behan is a gypsy. A blond-haired, blue-eyed one who wears around Hawaiian shirts. Sinéad Cusack’s character is never defined as Spanish, so maybe that one’s forgivable. Kate Beckinsale’s character is apparently supposed to be British, just living in Barcelona for the majority of her life. As Spanish nobility, Michael Gough is funny enough to ignore the major problems.

But where Uncovered is conflicting is in its approach to the characters. Even if McBride can’t direct a scene, the conversations between the characters are startlingly refreshing and blunt. Beckinsale’s character’s obsession with her weight (probably direct from the novel, since the movie doesn’t show much ingenuity), is a welcome cinematic approach. It’s part of her character, not a plot point. It began before the present action and it’s going to continue following.

Also interesting is–again from the novel–the lurking danger of AIDS.

The character stuff–and the awkwardly successful romance between Beckinsale and Behan, mostly because Beckinsale’s good enough to rise above the defects–almost makes Uncovered all right. But then the end does it in, mostly because of the terrible score and Wood’s performance going down the toilet.

Had the filmmakers just set the movie in England and hired a decent director (it’d be hard to use Sarde’s score in England), Uncovered would have probably been all right. Had they gotten a good feminist rewrite of the script, it would have been excellent.



Directed by Jim McBride; screenplay by Michael Hirst, McBride and Jack Baran, based on a novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Éva Gárdos; music by Philippe Sarde; production designer, Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski; produced by Enrique Posner; released by CiBy 2000.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Julia), John Wood (Cesar), Sinéad Cusack (Menchu), Paudge Behan (Domenec), Peter Wingfield (Max), Helen McCrory (Lola), Michael Gough (Don Manuel) and Art Malik (Alvaro).

I Capture the Castle (2003, Tim Fywell)

Do the British have an unending supply of novels about wise-beyond-their-years young women (unjustly poor or ordinary, of course) who have slightly dim older sisters who can’t see love in front of their eyes while all the time these younger women suffer for their sisters’ happiness? It certainly seems so.

I Capture the Castle, the film, plays like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Pride & Prejudice. It’s an incredibly long film, filled with two and three minute scenes set days or weeks apart, and chock-full of bad performances. The lead, Romola Garai, is excellent–though her performance isn’t enough to recommend the film, as it’s saddled with terrible diary-writing narration (filling the diary seems to be the present action of the film, but it’s decided on later and the film never takes advantage of that reasonable structure). Bill Nighy, as Garai’s father, a troubled novelist, is great. Nighy’s often great in outlandish roles, but Castle is the best work from him I’ve seen, he’s fantastic. Also good–surprisingly, as I haven’t seen him in anything for ten years–is Henry Thomas. Well, I suppose I saw him more recently in some of Cloak & Dagger, before I turned it off.

The rest of the cast is not good. Oh, except the precocious little brother. I queued the film for Rose Byrne, who plays the dull older sister. Given the rest of the cast, she’s not so bad, but she’s not any good in Castle. Tara Fitzgerald is bad. Sinéad Cusack is bad. Marc Blucas–as Thomas’ brother–is so bad he’s laughable. Even if these actors–Byrne aside–weren’t so bad, Castle probably wouldn’t be any better. It’s so shallowly written. Ah, forgot another one–almost Superman Henry Cavill is bad too. Anyway, the writing (I assume from the source novel) gives the characters no depth and gives the audience little to identify with except the occasional humor and the dreadfulness of being a wise-beyond-her-years English young woman who’s sacrificing her happiness for her older sister’s. Her dim older sister’s.

The director lensed the film in 2.35:1, which tends to require a lot of talent when the subject matter is people. He hasn’t got the talent (from his filmography, it looks like he’s done mostly TV movies and Castle was his only chance for glorious Panavision), but the English country-side scenery is pretty. At best, Castle (along with Dirty Dancing 2) will be an odd citation in Garai’s someday excellent filmography. At worst, it’ll be Bill Nighy’s best performance.



Directed by Tim Fywell; written by Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Roy Sharman; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, John-Paul Kelly; produced by David Parfitt; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Henry Thomas (Simon), Marc Blucas (Neil), Rose Byrne (Rose), Romola Garai (Cassandra), Bill Nighy (Mortmain), Tara Fitzgerald (Topaz), Henry Cavill (Stephen), Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Cotton) and Joe Sowerbutts (Thomas).

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