Popcorn Preview: Effie Gray

04/10/2015 10:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2015

Effie Gray (2014)
Cast includes: Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam), Emma Thompson (Love Actually), Derek Jacobi (The King's Speech), Russel Tovey (The History Boys), Julie Walters (Harry Potter series), Tom Sturridge (Pirate Radio), James Fox (Sherlock Holmes), Greg Wise (Sense and Sensibility), David Suchet (Poirot)
Writer: Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility)
Director: Richard Laxton (An Englishman in New York)
Genre: Drama | History (108 minutes)

"Once a beautiful young girl lived in a very cold house in Scotland." When a young man came to visit, "he wrote a fairy story just for her. She was 12. Then when she grew up, she married the rich and famous man, leaving dreary old Scotland behind." Effie is now 18 and she promises her sister Sophie that she can come visit her in London. In the carriage with her new husband, Effie realizes it's "the first time we've ever been entirely alone." Looking at Effie's beautiful face, John Ruskin feels everything is "perfect." The streets of London are teaming with life, but the Ruskin home, Denmark Hill, isn't actually in London... it's really a country estate. As soon as the newlyweds arrive, John's mother whisks him off to the bath and Effie gets a tour of all the home's new acquisitions... the ones John's father believes are worth the most money. "You'll never want for money," he tells Effie. In the bedchamber later that evening, Effie is a little unsure what she's supposed to do. For that matter, John seems unsure, too. When she lets her nightgown fall to the ground, he walks away.

"What do married people do?" she asks the next morning. "I must work," he answers. Effie soon learns that Denmark Hill is as cold as her family home in Scotland... but it isn't the temperature. It's the Ruskins. "You have married no ordinary man," John's mother tells her. "The only way you can help him is to leave him alone." John is an author of everything from social comment to art criticism. Because of John, the young artist, Everett Millais has a show at the Academy. That's where Effie meets Lady Eastlake... who is so taken with Effie that she insists on an invitation to dinner. Although the Ruskins contend that nothing is wrong, Lady Eastlake can see that there is. "She means to poison me," Effie says when the housekeeper insists she take the "medicine" Mrs. Ruskin gives her. Thankfully, the young couple will be spending some time in Venice, while John works on his next book about the decay of Venice.

Based on actual events, John and Effie were married in 1848... the height of the Victorian era. The details of their marriage would have been soap opera worthy had they happened in the 20th century, but in Victorian England, a woman had very little recourse if her marriage wasn't a happy one. In depicting the events of John and Effie's marriage, the movie is quite reserved and beautifully nuanced. Many of the filmmakers come from Merchant Ivory Productions, and Effie Gray is very much in that tradition. It's hard to know with certainty what went on in the marriage, but there are letters and written accounts that served as source material. Even John's friend Everett cringes when John says about Effie, "Women should learn to depend on themselves, rather than constantly craving companionship." Effie hopes that spending time in Venice will bring her husband closer, but he is quite disagreeable... "Once she was a virgin; now she's a harlot." Is he talking about Venice or Effie?

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A beautiful young woman trapped in a bad marriage in Victorian England

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: John Ruskin's marriage to Effie
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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