Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sophie Marceau, Stephen Dillane, Dominique Belcourt, Kevin Anderson, Lia Williams, Joss Ackland, Sally Dexter, Emma Amos, Maggie McCarthy, Wolf Kahler, Annabel Giles, John Flanagan, Valerie Minifie, Diana Payan, John Hodgkinson
Written by: William Nicholson
Directed by: William Nicholson
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 103
Date: 09/14/1997

Firelight (1998)

1 Star (out of 4)

Fizzling Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Firelight, which marks the directorial debut of screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands, Nell), begins well, with the lovely Elisabeth (Sophie Marceau) being questioned by an unseen man behind a shield. She is asked all kinds of questions, then she is told she has the job, although we don't yet know just what that is.

We find out soon that the job is to bear a child for a man named Charles (Stephen Dillane). The pair spend three days having sex in a hotel by the sea. Nine months later, she has the baby, and it is taken away from her. Seven years go by while we watch her paint flowers for her child. Then she gets hired to be the governess for her child at Charles' house. We know that eventually, the child will find out who her real mother is, and Charles and Elisabeth will fall in love. Nicholson kills any kind of suspense or interest in the movie by showing us all the cards immediately. So it becomes a waiting game.

Nicholson kills the time by explaining the title of the movie to us, not once, not twice, but five times.

We also see scenes of young Louisa (Dominique Belcourt) fighting with her governess / mother, and a scene of her walking out onto an icy lake and nearly drowning. None of this goes anywhere.

Moreover, it seems Charles has a wife who lives in zombie-like state, and who will eventually die. Charles is desperately afraid of the scandal his situation will surely create. In one scene, his father comes to visit for Christmas. The father seems to think that Elisabeth is perfectly nice and good-looking, and why doesn't he get together with her? There's really nothing holding him back. It's not like anyone will care if he cheats on his zombie wife. Even when he finally decides to kill her, he does it in the slowest and most boring way imaginable. He leaves the window open. Big deal.

I wish someone would explain to me why all these 19th Century costume dramas need to be so cheerless, so formal, and so godawful boring. Is there some rule which forbids spontaneity, or humor, or excitement? This is the same kind of movie that has been made since William Wyler's day in the 1930s. It's time we move on.

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