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(1998) (Vincent Perez, Rachel Weisz) (PG-13)

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Drama: A shipwrecked immigrant and a young servant woman begin a passionate love affair despite their fellow townspeople's indifference or hatred toward them.
Yanko (VINCENT PÉREZ) is a late 19th century Russian immigrant headed for a better life in America. After a terrible storm, however, he finds that he's the only survivor of a shipwreck that's left him in the coastal town of Cornwall, England. Injured and unable to speak the native tongue, Yanko is befriended by Amy Foster (RACHEL WEISZ), a young servant woman who knows what it's like to be isolated while surrounded by others. The product of a scandalous relationship, Amy has always been looked down upon by her fellow townspeople, as well as by the Smiths (TONY HAYGARTH and FIONA VICTORY), the family for which she works, and her own parents, Isaac (TOM BELL) and Mary Foster (ZOE WANAMAKER).

Yanko is then taken off to work for a wealthy land baron, Mr. Swaffer (JOSS ACKLAND), whose adult, wheelchair bound daughter (KATHY BATES) takes a compassionate interest in this newcomer. Likewise, the town doctor, James Kennedy (IAN McKELLEN), senses an intelligence in Yanko and helps him learn English. Months pass, but Yanko never forgets the young woman who helped him, and he sets off to win Amy's heart, despite advice from others to avoid her. Soon, the two young lovers stumble into an initially awkward romance, but as time passes they must deal not only with their growing love for one another, but also with the townspeople's indifference or hatred toward them.

Only if they're fans of someone in the cast or of period romantic dramas.
For elements of theme and some sensuality.
  • VINCENT PÉREZ plays a hard-working immigrant who desperately wants to win Amy's love.
  • RACHEL WEISZ plays an emotionally distant woman whose treatment at the hands of the townspeople and their hatred for her has left her the way she is.
  • IAN MCKELLEN plays the town's compassionate doctor who has a disdain for Amy, but does actively try to help Yanko.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    The works of English author Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), while certainly not happy, uplifting pieces of literature, have often been favorites among film makers. From the recent (and barely seen) "The Secret Agent" to "Apocalypse Now," the best-known adaption of any of his works that was based on "Heart of Darkness," his flair for the darker, dramatic side of life has usually been easily transferable to the big screen. "Swept From the Sea," the latest cinematic adaption of a Conrad story, is no different. For those who like their movies profoundly dark, tragic, and filled with despair, this film is for them.

    Based on Conrad's thirty-page novella, "Amy Foster," this is a rare type of adaption. Quite often fans of certain novelist's works are disappointed with the results of bringing a given title to the silver screen. Characters are usually never as richly developed, scenes are truncated, and the filmed version usually pales in comparison simply because it's difficult to condense long novels into an hour and a half to two hour running time. Not so with this adaption that obviously had to be lengthened to fill the necessary time.

    That credit must obviously go to screenwriter Tim Willocks who makes his sophomore scribe outing with this feature. While I must admit that I haven't read the original short story, it is amazing that the film never feels like it's been padded or artificially beefed up to fill the time. Indeed, the film truly has an epic feel to it -- not so much in that it sweeps across locations, but instead passes through time and delivers a tragic drama. Granted, the film often teeters on the brink of being a Harlequin romance-type story, but it definitely has that epic feel.

    Much of that can also be attributed to director Beeban Kidron, who helmed 1995's surprise hit, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," and cinematographer Dick Pope ("Secrets & Lies"). Using the bleak and rugged coastal English landscape to the fullest extent, the film is always intriguing to watch and never allows the sea -- an integral and symbolic element -- to be far from sight. Although set nearly a century ago, the film certainly isn't your standard costume drama and is anything but an indoor, stuffy experience. This is more of what one would call a "dirty costume drama" due to the copious amounts of mud and rain that leave the stars looking quite dingy and disheveled with muddy clothing and matted hair.

    The story is told in flashback by Kennedy, the town's doctor (itself something of a strange device since he's telling it to someone who already knows the story, but that's a minor objection). He's upset by something in Yanko and Amy's relationship, and it's the mystery of what that may be that propels our interest in the film. While it's moderately compelling, to me it was not emotionally captivating. Perhaps it was John Barry's heavy handed score (that desperately wants to make this feature sound tragically dramatic) or Weisz's (the lead actress) emotionally flat performance, but the film never hit me in the gut or brought a tear to my eye. Granted, I can see why some people might be affected that way, but the puppeteer's strings seemed too blatantly obvious for the film to really affect me on an emotion level.

    Vincent Pérez, best known for his role in "The Crow: City of Angels" (replacing the late Brandon Lee in that sequel), is competent as the wayward immigrant. Certainly looking the part and doing a decent job with the accent, he manages to create an "outsider" character with whom we easily sympathize. Rachel Weisz (1997's "Going All the Way"), on the other hand, creates an icy cold woman who keeps both the other characters in the film and the audience at a constant arm's length. While she's perfectly playing the part as written and does a good job portraying such a character, that aloof quality prevents us from really feeling for her. The only saving grace is that everyone else in the town hates her, so by default we do feel some sympathy for her. Some viewers may wish that Yanko can break through her deeply entrenched emotional "iceberg," but I suspect many others will hope that he jumps on the next ship bound for America and has better luck there.

    While there certainly is such a thing as "love at first sight," its application here doesn't perfectly work. Granted, the "pickings" for a mate in a small coastal town in mid 19th century England were probably slim, but Yanko's immediate need to win Amy's heart and marry her feels a bit forced. After all, she's the town outcast -- and while Yanko identifies with her social standing (he's essentially in the same situation) -- her emotional aloofness would surely frustrate any, and all, would-be suitors. Although that makes for good drama as he tries to be the catalyst to warm up her icy heart, it still feels forcibly constructed and not quite natural.

    With that relationship never really getting off the ground, that leaves the friendship between Yanko and Dr. Kennedy to fill the void. Fortunately, the scenes with them together are the moments when the film does take off, and Ian McKellen (a Golden Globe nominee for 1995's "Richard III"), creates the film's most interesting and likable character. Exuding wisdom and intelligence in a time when the townspeople still worry about curses and such, McKellen finds himself inhabiting the best developed character the film has to offer and certainly stands out amongst the performances.

    The rest of the actors deliver decent turns in their smaller roles, but aren't given much with which to work. For example, the normally flamboyant Kathy Bates (an Oscar winner for "Misery") feels underwritten and confined, while character actor Joss Ackland isn't given a great deal to do either. The rest of the performers have even smaller roles but certainly do fit in and look the part.

    I imagine this film will polarize moviegoers. Some, looking for a heartfelt romantic drama, might fall in love with the characters and hope for the best, knowing full well that tragedy lurks around the corner. Conversely, other viewers will find that the film is too manipulative in trying to force those very qualities onto them. They'll groan and/or snicker when Amy, who habitually collects sea debris, looks at Yanko and tells him that he himself came from the sea. We fall somewhere in the middle of those two reactions. The film looks wonderful, is easy to watch, and competently works in the dramatic sense of telling a story, yet it failed to connect with me emotionally. For that reason, we give "Swept From The Sea" just a 5 out of 10.

    A mild sensual scene gives this film its PG-13 rating, as we see a brief sexual encounter between the two main characters that doesn't show any nudity and only ever-so-brief movement. Profanity is mild with just one "s" word, but there is a heavy amount of bad attitudes as nearly everyone treats Amy and Yanko poorly. A shipwreck (with several scenes containing many dead bodies) and an implied incestuous relationship (of which Amy was the product) highlight the thematic elements that also give the film its rating. While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, you should read through the listings in case someone in your home does want to see it.

  • At Yanko's "going away" party, a man has a mug of what may be an alcoholic beverage.
  • Kennedy has a drink near him while playing chess, and later has one at a market.
  • Amy's father and some friends drink what's presumably some sort of alcohol.
  • Kennedy gives Amy some elixir that he says has opium in it for Yanko's pneumonia.
  • We see several glimpses of a bloody wound (something of a hole) in Miss Swaffer's leg, including scenes where Kennedy is taking small bits of flesh from it.
  • We see Yanko vomiting on board a ship.
  • Yanko has a few bloody scrapes on his face.
  • We see many dead bodies both in the water and on shore, as well as later when Kennedy checks them and then stands among all of them. (Other than being dead, however, there's not much that's particularly bloody or gory).
  • We see a severed pig's head at a farmer's market.
  • Yanko's a little bloody after being beaten up. We then see Kennedy tying a stitch above Yanko's eye.
  • Nearly everyone looks down on Amy because she was "a product of a family scandal" (her grandfather was really her father), including Kennedy who refers to her as a "strange creature." Others call her "idiot" and her own father calls her a "queer sort."
  • Likewise, nearly no one is nice to Yanko and they treat him like a barbarian of sorts.
  • Amy's father mockingly tells her that she looks "quite fetching" in her outfit (nearly a "come on" to her).
  • No one supports the budding romance between Yanko and Amy.
  • Some kids rush up and make fun of Amy and her infant.
  • The ship Yanko's on goes through a severe storm and is tossed about by the sea and he's washed overboard. We later see long sequences that show many dead bodies from the apparent shipwreck.
  • Amy's father and his friends grab Yanko. Isaac then punches Yanko many times (to the face and gut) and then takes him down to the sea where he holds his head underwater until Amy rescues him.
  • Amy's dress briefly catches on fire, but Yanko quickly drops her in the water to put it out.
  • Amy must deal with a crying baby and Yanko, who is delirious and raving from his bout with pneumonia (all while a thunderstorm rages outside -- the scene's more tense than frightening).
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Bloody hell," "Hell's bells," "Idiot," and "Lunatic."
  • None.
  • There's just a bit of dramatic music that accompanies a few of the tense scenes.
  • None.
  • 1 "s" word, 4 damns, 2 hells, 1 possible ass (used with "hole"), and 1 use each of "For God's sakes," "By Christ," "Christ Almighty," "Good Christ," "Christ," and "My God" as exclamations.
  • Amy's mother tells her that her real father is actually her grandfather and that both men (the husband and his father) had their ways with her.
  • In a pool of water, Yanko and Amy begin to undress and we see part of her cleavage. She then straddles his lap and they presumably have sex with just brief, initial movement (but no nudity) in a sensual moment.
  • We briefly see a man smoking a pipe during a work break.
  • Amy and her parents don't get along at all (mainly because they look down at her as a bastard child), and Amy then learns that her real father is actually her grandfather.
  • Kennedy states that he lost his wife and child to typhoid and another person must deal with the death of their spouse.
  • Accepting others who people think are different from them.
  • Although not seen, everyone on board a ship is killed during a storm (we do see many bodies).
  • A dog briefly attacks Yanko. Mr. Smith then hits Yanko with a club and knocks him unconscious.
  • Mr. Smith threatens to harm Yanko if he returns to his farm.
  • Amy's father and his friends grab Yanko. Isaac then punches Yanko many times (to the face and gut) and knees him in the crotch. They then take him down to the sea where he holds Yanko's head underwater until Amy rescues him.
  • Amy's mother smacks her.
  • Some men burn Amy's treasured possessions.
  • Amy smacks a boy on the head after he won't stop taunting her.

  • Reviewed January 20, 1998

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