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With: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Jane Birkin, Fiona Shaw, Keeley Hawes, Lambert Wilson, David Tennant, Richard Roxburgh, Gary Lydon
Written by: John Banville, based on a novel by Elizabeth Bowen
Directed by: Deborah Warner
MPAA Rating: R for some violence and sexuality
Running Time: 104
Date: 05/16/1999

The Last September (1999)

1 Star (out of 4)

Coma Inducing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's my own fault. I knew when I saw The Last September that I'd have to write it up immediately or I'd forget everything about it. But I got busy with the San Francisco Film Festival and other deadlines. And now here I am, trying to review this movie with only the vaguest memories of what it was about.

The Last September is yet another one of those Hallmark Hall-of-Fame, rolling hills, costume movies that some people seem so in love with, as if setting a movie in the last century automatically gives it elegance and intelligence. As far as I can remember, there's a young woman (Keeley Hawes) who is kind of spunky and doesn't play by the stodgy rules of the time. She falls in love with a soldier who's in hiding in an old castle. There's another woman, a little older (Fiona Shaw), who has traveled and knows the Ways of the World. She comes to visit and gives the young woman advice. Maggie Smith is in there playing some wise old matriarch. Oh, yeah, I think this is all set during World War I.

The movie is based on a novel (these movies always are) written in 1929 by Elizabeth Bowen. It's directed by Deborah Warner who has done this kind of thing on stage before, but this is her first feature film. It's produced, amazingly, by Neil Jordan, who has delivered some of the most passionate movies of recent years, like The Butcher Boy (1998) and The End of the Affair (1999).

Though these kinds of movies sometimes work when the material is good (like 1995's Sense and Sensibility), The Last September is a classic example of how they don't work. The dialogue is monotonous, the characters are monotonous, the photography is monotonous, and everyone's emotions are repressed. I can't remember a more paint-by-numbers effort.

As hard as it is for me to remember what happened during the movie, I'm going to make sure I file this one away to use as a weapon for the next time people start defending this thuddingly dull genre. If The Last September sticks around in theaters for more than a week, I'll eat my hat.

Best Buy Co, Inc.