Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
Screenplay by: Laura Jones (based on a novel by Peter Carey)
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Richard Roxburgh
Narrated by: Geoffrey Rush
Oscar Hopkins (Fiennes) is an Anglican priest and an obsessive gambler. Lucinda Leplastrier (Blanchett) is an Australian heiress, the owner of a glass factory, and an...obsessive gambler. The two meet on a voyage from England to Australia and later become good friends, but their lives are changed forever when Lucinda bets Oscar that he cannot transport a glass church from Sydney up the New South Wales coast to Bellingen.
With the exception of the two lead actors, I was kind of disappointed in this movie. The premise seems really good, but it just didn't come across on screen very well. I have a feeling the book is much better; that is usually the case. If you're into period pieces, though, you might want to check it out (the story is set in the mid-1800s). The film, especially at the beginning, spends a lot of time on Oscar's religious background -- how he abandons his father, a conservative evangelical minister, to join the Anglican church and subsequently becomes involved with gambling through a fellow seminary student. I think that stuff is important to establish Oscar's mindset, but 1) there's just too much of it, and 2) some of it requires more explanation than the film actually gives. While we get a ton of background on Oscar, we simply don't get enough background on Lucinda. How exactly did she become addicted to gambling? The film doesn't really say.
I always have good things to say about Cate Blanchett -- you guys know that -- so I'll focus on her co-star this time, instead. This is Ralph Fiennes as I have never seen him before. These days his characters are most often downright evil (Nazi sociopath, serial killer, London mob boss, dark wizard -- take your pick), but even in all those bad guy roles, Fiennes still gives his characters a suave, debonair, even regal quality. Oscar is completely different. The best word to describe him is awkward. Very awkward. He's a complete misfit who is clumsy, dresses strangely, and always says the wrong thing. Fiennes plays him perfectly, right down to the way he walks and moves. Instead of using smooth motions, Fiennes goes for something less refined. I was trying to figure out last night what Oscar reminded me of, and I think I finally decided. Have you ever seen a newborn horse try to get up and walk? It's movements after it is finally able to stand are very choppy and halting. That's how Fiennes plays Oscar. It was very un-Ralph Fiennes and I loved seeing him do something different.
One last thing: the ending was rather sad, and I was hoping for something a little less depressing, but I kind of figured out about half-way through (after the shocking demise of Richard Roxburgh's character) that there was no way this movie was going to have a true happy ending. Oh, well.