[Screen It]


(1997) (Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Moderate *Moderate Mild Moderate
Mild None Minor None Moderate
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Drama: A young minister and a liberated woman forge a friendship in mid 19th century Australia.
Oscar Hopkins is a young boy growing up in mid 19th century Devon, England. Having lost his mother to cancer, he's brought up by his strict father whose puritanical religious views force the boy to eventually abandon both his father and his beliefs. He goes to stay with an Anglican minister, Hugh Stratton (TOM WILKINSON), and years later attends school studying the ministry. It's there that an associate introduces Oscar (RALPH FIENNES), an awkward, gangly young man, to gambling. Inherently and immediately successful, Oscar donates most of his winnings to the church, but becomes hooked.

Meanwhile thousands of miles away, Lucinda Leplastrier (CATE BLANCHETT), a young but headstrong woman, has inherited a great deal of money after her mother's death. Described as a square peg in a world of round holes, Lucinda's liberal independent spirit strains against the confines of the conservative society in which she lives. Like Oscar, she loves to gamble and because of that meets him on board a ship headed back to Australia. Their fondness for gambling creates an instant bond between the two, but Oscar's fear of the water sends him into reclusion in his cabin.

Back in South Wales, Lucinda decides to buy a glass factory and finds herself falling in love with the local reverend, Dennis Hassett (CIARÁN HINDS). However, he's sent to a remote outback section of Australia, causing Lucinda much distress. Oscar, who has fallen for Lucinda, devises a plan he hopes will win over her heart. He will deliver her conceptual all-glass cathedral to Hassett, but instead of traveling by ship, he'll transport the church piece by piece over uncharted land. With the assistance of expedition leader, Mr. Jeffris (RICHARD ROXBURGH) and his new friend Percy Smith (BILLE BROWN), Oscar and his team set off for Bellingren in hopes of delivery Lucinda's magnificent gift.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast it's not very likely.
For a scene of sexuality, and for brief violence.
  • RALPH FIENNES plays a meek minister who's addicted to gambling.
  • CATE BLANCHETT plays a strong-willed, liberated woman who's also addicted to gambling.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Directed by Gillian Armstrong (1994's "Little Women") and based on the 1988 novel by Peter Carey, "Oscar and Lucinda" is at times compelling, but at others appears to be an awkwardly condensed version of the novel. While I haven't read the original story, the research I've done on the movie and the novel indicates that some events have been changed (which is usually the case in such adaptions) and much of the novel's early events have been severely truncated. Even without prior knowledge of the plot, the film's beginning feels rushed and as if significant pieces have been left out.

    That's somewhat alleviated by the voice over narration (from actor Geoffrey Rush of "Shine" fame) mouthed by the descendant of a character from the plot. While I've never been a fan of that device, it was used in the Carey's novel and it's not too obtrusive to be obnoxious. Once past the exposition-like beginning, the film does finally settle down into a more orderly fashion and gets much better.

    Much of that is due to the fine performances delivered by the lead actors. Although we never learn much about the main characters they play (part of what was presumably jettisoned from the novel), both Cate Blanchett (1996's "Paradise Road") and Ralph Fiennes (1996's "The English Patient" and 1993's "Schindler's List") embody them to such a degree that it's okay that we don't need to know much about them. Everything needed to be known is played out on their sleeves and the movie, like the novel, simply describes them as compulsive and obsessive gamblers. Likewise, but in a role reversal for the plot's temporal setting, Lucinda is the strong, dominant character while Oscar plays the passive and ultimately submissive man. Blanchett is quite good playing the young, but outwardly headstrong and liberal woman who finds herself at odds with the world in which she's stuck, and is entirely believable in her role.

    Fiennes adds yet another diverse character to his portfolio of playing clearly distinguishable characters. While his creation here isn't entirely likeable (although come to think of it, many of his characters have been that way), he's so completely different from the Nazi soldier he portrayed in "Schindler's List" that it's amazing to think that the same actor depicted both characters. Though in his mid-thirties, Fiennes somewhat manages to capture Oscar's young, awkward age and innocence, and that characteristic allows the audience to sympathize with his character despite his diffident attributes and later discovered flaws.

    Director Armstrong employs some nice imagery, including attention-grabbing shots of various churches being moved across locales. While she does include scenes from the novel such as the traditional shattering of the Prince Rupert Drop (a small glass figurine in the shape of a drop), it's doubtful most viewers will immediately make the symbolic connection of that to the later shattering of Oscar and Lucinda's glass cathedral. It is a welcome cinematic touch of tying the movie's beginning and end together, however, and is something rarely seen in today's films.

    The awkwardly paced beginning that zips through events and time, however, never allows the viewer to comfortably adjust to the plot or theme of the movie. The novel, after all, is about the efforts of the British Empire to thrust her way upon the world (the glass church being delivered into the untamed wilderness) and of the questioning of that period's religious and cultural beliefs. We're quickly thrown into all of that, and it takes a while to absorb what's going on and then get in step with the plot. Once that happens, everything "clicks," and while it's still very slow moving until much later, at least the movie and the audience come to a mutual standing.

    Those familiar with the novel may be disappointed by this film's truncated version of the story, but others looking for a more mature plot (ie. no explosions or major action scenes) should be somewhat satisfied with the film. The plot does pick up and get more interesting as the story develops, and the last third is much better than what came before it. Yet I never really felt connected to the story, all of which may stem from the superficial characterizations, or the awkward beginning.

    Luckily the performances from Fiennes and Blanchett hold one's interest until the story catches up in the film's latter half. With appropriate period costuming supplied by Janet Patterson, and marvelous lens work from cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, the film always has a captivating look to it and is mostly mesmerizing to watch. An interesting period piece, "Oscar and Lucinda" should please fans of the "costume drama" genre, but with a better constructed adaption of the original novel, the film could have been much better. As it stands, we give it a 6 out of 10.

    While it's doubtful that any but the oldest of teens will want to see this film, here's a quick summary of the content. There is one sexual encounter with movement but no nudity, although there is other non-related and minor nudity. A somewhat graphic violent act where a man's arm is struck with a hatchet (quite bloody) and then is hit in the head with an ax (not explicitly seen) gives that category a moderate rating. Likewise, although there's limited profanity, the inclusion of a slang term for genitals gives that category an identical rating. Some viewers may take objection to the way some religious people are portrayed (gambling, one kills himself, etc...), but beyond the gambling and some drinking, the rest of the categories don't have major objectionable material. Even so, you should read through the listings in case someone in your family wishes to see this film.

  • Hugh drinks wine.
  • One of Oscar's friends drinks from a flask.
  • Lucinda and a man drink.
  • People drink on a ship.
  • A priest drinks while talking to Oscar about gambling.
  • Lucinda drinks.
  • A Bishop and other religious men drink.
  • Oscar sees that his father's leg has been cut and is just a bit bloody.
  • We see Hugh whacking off the head of a dead chicken on his farm.
  • An aborigine is a little bloody after being shot.
  • During a fight, one man strikes another with a hatchet blow to the arm (quite bloody), and another then hits the injured man in the head with an ax (blood splatter and some on his hands).
  • Some viewers may find the portrayals of various religious people as having both. Oscar's father and his followers are portrayed as religious extremists/fanatics, while Oscar's mentor is portrayed as a drinker and is happily anxious to learn of Oscar's gambling-induced earnings. Likewise, Oscar is a devoted religious man who becomes addicted to gambling, and comments that God doesn't look down on people who gamble. In another scene, a bishop bets others that he can pull a tablecloth out from under the table top settings. Finally, a reverend commits suicide.
  • A dog fighting contest is held for gambling purposes (we only see the spectators).
  • The locals refer to Australian Aborigines as "blacks" and "niggers."
  • Some locals (and travelers) in a bar forcibly have sex with a native woman (mostly implied).
  • Some viewers may find scenes listed under "Violence" as also tense.
  • Oscar, who's afraid of the water, finds himself sinking into a river as the barge carrying the glass cathedral starts to sink. Moment by moment the cathedral slips further into the water as he tries to get out.
  • Pistols/Rifles: Carried by the guards and used by Mr. Jeffris to shoot two aborigines.
  • Sword/Hatchet/Ax: Used in a fight. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Blacks" and "Niggers" (what the locals call the Australian aborigines).
  • Some schoolmates enter Oscar's room, overturn his belongings, and drop rats onto his floor.
  • A bishop bets that he can pull a tablecloth out from under the table top settings and tries to do so. He mostly succeeds and only breaks one item.
  • We see a man after he's hanged himself.
  • None.
  • There's just a minor bit of ominous music in a few scenes during the movie.
  • None.
  • 1 slang term for male genitals (the "c" word), 1 ass (used with "hole"), 3 damns, and 1 "Oh God" are heard.
  • Some locals (and travelers) in a bar forcibly have sex with a native woman. Most of it's implied (a woman trying to cover herself, a man buckling his belt, etc...) but we do see a man's bare butt as he goes in to take "his turn."
  • We see the bare butt of a young aborigine.
  • A woman, who's tending to Oscar after his long trip, runs her hands up his leg to his crotch. She then gathers up her dress, squats over his lap and has sex with him. While we don't see any nudity, we do see her movement and hear some sexual sounds.
  • Lucinda smokes in one scene.
  • Other minor characters smoke in a few scenes (cigars and pipes).
  • There is some brief talk and one scene revolving around the death of Oscar's mother (and we see his father's reaction to it).
  • Oscar eventually leaves his father's home for good.
  • Lucinda notices that her mother is sick, and later we learn that she has died.
  • Differing forms of religion and believes through the times (ie. Oscar's father is a strict religious man who believes that Christmas is a pagan activity).
  • Gambling and those who become addicted to it.
  • Oscar's father slaps his young son on the head and throws his dessert plate into the fireplace after catching Oscar eating Christmas pudding (which his father thinks is blasphemous).
  • We see a man after he's hanged himself.
  • Mr. Jeffris shoots two aborigines.
  • Some locals (and travelers) in a bar forcibly have sex with a native woman.
  • A man pushes Oscar around a bar and then takes him outside where he kicks him several times. He then goes after Oscar with his sword, and when he's about to strike him, a third man hits the first in the arm with a hatchet. That man then goes for his sword and Oscar hits him in the head with an ax, killing him.

  • Reviewed December 1, 1997

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [1917] [Bombshell] [Cats] [Little Women] [Spies In Disguise] [Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker] [Uncut Gems]

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