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Gray and Grim: Effie Gray

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.

Emma Thompson-Effie Gray

Photo by David Levinthal – Courtesy of Adopt Films

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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