Dakota Fanning is so good in the title role that she almost validates Effie Gray…but not quite. Emma Thompson wrote this period piece, which features her real-life husband, Greg Wise, in a juicy leading role. But aside from good casting and a vivid recreation of Victorian England, the film has little to recommend it.
This is the real-life story of the respected but emotionally frigid 19th century art critic John Ruskin, who met and impressed Euphemia Gray when she was a girl. When she turned 19 he married her but never had sexual relations with her; in fact, he scorned and shunned her from their wedding night onward. All of this is portrayed with a heavy hand and a deadening monotony, under the direction of Richard Laxton.
The actors can’t be faulted. The leading players are well supported by Julie Walters and David Suchet, as Ruskin’s protective parents, the elegant Derek Jacobi, as an attorney, as well as Tom Sturridge, Robbie Coltrane, James Fox, and Claudia Cardinale.
The one piece of casting that sets the film ajar is Thompson herself, as the only person who shows Effie any concern or empathy. Knowing that the actress-writer is an ardent feminist took me out of the film…although, on second thought, that’s not a bad place to be. Effie Gray tells its potentially interesting story through modern eyes, without a shred of subtlety. It seems like a wasted opportunity.