The Governess Review

Rosina DaSilva (Minnie Driver) is a Sephardic Jewess in 1840s London. After the death of her father, she becomes the family breadwinner. Fleeing an arranged marriage, she adopts the name Mary Blackchurch and takes a job as a governess with the Cavendish family on the Isle of Skye. Her charge is the difficult Clementina (Florence Hoath). The father of the household, Charles (Tom Wilkinson) is a scientist trying to perfect an early photographic process. Rosina becomes his assistant and soon his lover...

The Governess is certainly a decent film, but dramatically underwhelming. The characters are stock types, and a capable cast can't quite make them three-dimensional. We have a feisty, pre-feminist heroine (here given religious/ethnic angles as well). Charles is the dry-as-dust scientist brought to life by love. His son Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is more decadent and also, predictably, falls for Rosina. Clementina is little else but a rebellious child and her mother (who is only called Mrs Cavendish, not given a first name) barely registers. All-stops-out Victorian melodrama would not have been a bad thing, would have livened the film up no end, but The Governess is too restrained for that. Also lacking is any sense of place: London is too obviously a studio set and on Skye too much of the film is set indoors to make much of the setting. (In any case, Arran stood in for Skye.) The film looks good, and director Goldbacher shows an eye for composition in the Scope format. But unfortunately, despite moments of interest, the film never really catches fire.

The Governess was shot in Super 35, and this DVD transfer is in the 2.35:1 ratio that the film was shown in theatrically. Unfortunately, like other discs in Momentum's World Cinema Collection, it's non-anamorphic: this shows in occasional lacks of shadow detail, and the picture isn't quite as sharp and vibrant as it should be. The sound is basic 2.0 Stereo, perfectly competent but nothing to write home about either. There are eighteen chapter stops, which is a little ungenerous for the film’s length. The only extra is the trailer, in non-anamorphic 16:9 and running 1:50.

The Governess is a difficult film to recommend: it's not good enough to be a must-see, nor is it bad enough (to be a different kind of must-see, or just to be avoided). Fans of Minnie Driver and viewers interested in the subject matter in general and Jewish themes in particular are likely to get most out of it. A general audience will most probably pass it by, particularly as it's indifferent as a DVD package.

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