[Screen It]


(1998) (Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Minor Moderate Minor Minor
Minor Minor Minor None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Heavy None Mild Mild *Mild

Drama: After her father's sudden death, a young Jewish woman adopts a new, gentile identity and takes a job as a governess for a family in Scotland.
In Victorian England, a young Jewish woman, Rosina Da Silva (MINNIE DRIVER), suddenly finds herself fatherless and needing to take care of her family. Initially hoping to find success in the theater, she instead opts to reinvent herself as Mary Blackchurch, a gentile governess and goes to the shores of Scotland to work for the Cavendish family.

Father Charles (TOM WILKINSON) is a scientist who's recently become fascinated with the new "science" of photography, but he's stymied by his failure to find the correct fixation procedure to make his images permanent. Mrs. Cavendish (HARRIET WALTER), on the other hand, believes that the bleak Scottish landscape and the lack of any social life is slowly boring her to death, while their recalcitrant teenage son, Henry (JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS), immediately falls in love with Rosina. Then there's Clementina (FLORENCE HOATH), their spoiled brat of a daughter whom Rosina most care for and tutor.

Her interest, however, strays to Charles and his photographic experiments, and he readily accepts her eager assistance. Their close quarters eventually spark a romance between the two, a fact that they must hide from the rest of the family. As their affair grows, Rosina must constantly deal with the fact that her true identity may surface and destroy her new life.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast it's not very likely.
For sexuality and nudity.
  • MINNIE DRIVER plays a young Jewish woman who not only adopts a gentile identity in order to support her family, but ends up having an affair with the married father of the family for which she now works.
  • TOM WILKINSON plays an inventor and scientist who has an affair with the family's governess.
  • JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS plays the free spirited son who falls in love with, and constantly pursues Rosina.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    A fictitious account of the early world of photography and a woman who not only stumbles upon a significant developing process, but also becomes quite successful for herself, "The Governess" is an okay yarn with good performances from its lead actors. Oddly positioned in the summer blockbuster lineup, this "counter-programing" film will barely register with summer audiences, but may fare better once on video.

    After a rushed and significantly disjointed opening sequence of events that imparts two important pieces of info -- Rosina's interest in sexual matters and the sudden death of her father -- the film settles down into a mostly predictable, but still passable story. Events then slowly transpire in a typical art house film fashion, meaning that very little happens but everything looks splendid while doing so (courtesy of cinematographer Ashley Rowe and production designer Sarah Greenwood).

    Since things aren't whizzing by us, there's plenty of time to easily figure out that some sort of romance will crop up between Rosina and Charles (particularly since his wife is rather "snooty" so to speak), or that someone may discover Rosina's old Jewish identity, thus destroying her new life.

    In fact it's that element that's initially made into something more than what is ultimately delivered. We get to see scenes of Rosina/Mary trying to cope with the differences between her old Jewish religion and lifestyle, and the strange (to her) Christian conditions under which she finds herself in her ruse.

    Writer/director Sandra Goldbacher, who makes her feature film debut with this picture, however, somewhat stumbles regarding that issue as she never seems quite sure whether to play this socio/religious identity crisis for laughs or drama. Additionally, while the threat of her true identity eventually being revealed looms over Rosina's character, it's never taken far enough once that threat is realized.

    For the most part, that "fish out of water" element disappears until it's conveniently resurrected near the film's end to create some dramatic tension, but even then the golden opportunity for even more familial and overall dramatic tension is pretty much squandered away.

    This isn't to say that the proceedings aren't easy to watch and that's mainly due to the performances from the leads. I've always enjoyed the roles played by Minnie Driver ("Circle of Friends," an Oscar nominated turn in "Good Will Hunting") and here she delivers one of her best. While some may complain that she nearly overacts on several occasions (in particular the emotional laden crying scenes) I thought she did a splendid job.

    Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty," "Wilde") also delivers a decent take as the stoic father and scientist whose passion for life is rekindled by Rosina. Performances from the supporting cast are similarly competent with Harriet Walter ("Sense and Sensibility") giving a funny take as a stuffy, but bored upperclass lady, Florence Hoath ("Fairy Tale: A True Story") delivering an okay rendition of a spoiled brat, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Telling Lies In America") doing an okay job of playing the love blinded adolescent.

    For the most part writer/director Goldbacher delivers a decent freshman effort and gets a lot of help from Driver's performance. Neatly tying in Rosina's dreams of her dead father with her desire to forever capture a person's image on film, Goldbacher nicely layers in some symbolic moments, and the film never fails to look great, thanks to some outstanding tech credits.

    While the picture suddenly accelerates to its somewhat rushed ending -- thus giving it bookends of similar tempo -- it could have used a more interesting script to keep things a bit more lively during the moments in between. Passable, but not terribly compelling, the picture is worth seeing, but mainly due to Minnie Driver's presence and performance. We give "The Governess" a 6 out of 10.

    Sexual encounters and full nudity give this film its R rating. After some brief early discussions about oral sex, Rosina and Charles later have sex (with her losing her virginity while having an affair with a married man for whom she works). We briefly see her bare breasts, and later we see full frontal nudity of him, as well as of his son in a later scene. Beyond the bad attitudes associated with the affair and Charles' later treatment of Rosina, the rest of the categories have little or no major objectionable material.

  • The family has wine with dinner.
  • Henry drinks wine and comments that he was kicked out of Oxford after he was discovered "in an opium den with a whore."
  • Charles brings Rosina some sort of liquor to drink.
  • Charles drinks some sort of liquor.
  • Henry has wine with his meal.
  • We briefly see Rosina throwing up a bit during a bumpy carriage ride.
  • Rosina (in voice over) makes a brief scatological comment about Mrs. Cavendish always seeming as if she has a "lemon up her posterior."
  • A prostitute calls Rosina a "Jew girl."
  • Clementina is a bit of a spoiled brat, and in one scene she has put dead mice on Rosina's pillow.
  • Charles and Rosina have an affair despite him being married and her working for him.
  • Henry goes through Rosina's private belongings in her room.
  • Charles suddenly calls off the affair with Rosina, and then takes credit for her photography discovery.
  • Younger kids may be unsettled by Rosina's grievous reaction to seeing her dead father lying before many praying men.
  • Likewise, younger kids and perhaps some other viewers may find some of Rosina's hallucinatory dreams that feature her dead father as a bit unsettling.
  • Angry with Rosina, Charles pushes her across the room and then lifts up her dress as if he might rape her from behind, but he stops.
  • Kids may wonder about (and be unsettled by) scenes where Rosina returns home and discovers that a cholera epidemic has spread through her hometown.
  • Pistol: Aimed at Rosina as she surprises her sister and a man with her in the old family home.
  • Phrases: "Whore" and "Pissing in his pants."
  • Rosina discovers that Clementina has put several dead mice on her pillow.
  • As Rosina sneaks through Charles' lab, a brief sound startles her (and some in the audience).
  • A minor bit of suspenseful music occurs in a few scenes.
  • None.
  • 1 damn and 1 use of "God" as exclamations.
  • Rosina passes by a prostitute on the street who exposes her breast to her.
  • Commenting on the above, Rosina's sister asks if she thinks they "enjoy it." When asked about what she's referring to, her sister replies, "Drinking semen." She then comments that "gentiles eat a desert that looks like semen called semolina..." Rosina then comments that "she'd like to see semen, but not drink it." In a later scene, Rosina suddenly loses her appetite when she discovers that she's eating some sort of semolina pudding.
  • Rosina later says that she'd "rather be a prostitute swallowing semolina" instead of marrying a fisherman.
  • Mrs. Cavendish shows some cleavage in her dress.
  • Henry comments that he was kicked out of Oxford after he was discovered "in an opium den with a whore."
  • Rosina shows some cleavage and she and Charles sensually kiss and he asks her "Do you know what to do?" (about having sex) and she shakes her head in the negative. He then feels her corseted breasts (while she's under some sort of sheer fabric), we hear him unzipping his zipper, and then see her reaction as he begins to have sex with her in the missionary position (both are still clothed).
  • We see brief glimpses of Rosina's bare breasts (and an even briefer view of her bare butt) as she poses for Charles' photos, and at other moments her ample bosom nearly bursts from her tight corset.
  • We see brief male full frontal nudity as Rosina undresses Charles (while he's fast asleep) and then again in the photo she takes of him in this state. Later, we see the photo (and the full frontal nudity) in another scene.
  • Henry comes to comfort Rosina in her bedroom and starts to kiss her. She then tells him to take off his clothes (he does), and we see his bare butt as well as some brief full frontal nudity. She then rubs her hands along his body (including his butt) as he lies face down on her bed. We don't know whether they have sex or not.
  • We see male full frontal nudity as Henry comes out of the surf and as he lies on the sand.
  • None.
  • Rosina and the rest of the family must deal with the sudden death of her father (and seeing him laid out before many praying men).
  • Rosina returns home and learns that family members have died or are sick from a cholera epidemic.
  • Differing religions.
  • Early photography.
  • Cholera epidemics (Rosina returns home to discover that there is one there).
  • Although we don't see the violence, it's implied that someone murdered Rosina's father.
  • Angry with Rosina, Charles pushes her across the room and then lifts up her dress as if he might rape her from behind, but he stops.
  • A man with Rosina's sister briefly aims a pistol at Rosina as she surprises them in her old home.

  • Reviewed July 1, 1998

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [Collateral Beauty] [La La Land] [Manchester By The Sea] [Rogue One: A Star Wars Story]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2018 Screen It, Inc.