Up at the villa
Threat advisory: Elevated - Significant risk of entertaining activities
Mary Panton (Kristin Scott Thomas), an English beauty recently widowed and left penniless, is staying at a villa thanks to the generosity of acquaintances. Sir Edgar Swift (James Fox), a friend 25 years older than Mary, visits Florence and proposes marriage. While fond of Edgar, Mary isn't in love with him. But she's tempted by the advantages of his proposal - not only is he a cherished friend, he is about to be appointed Governor of Bengal and as such can offer her a life of luxury. She asks for a few days to consider his offer.
Meanwhile, Mary's charismatic if jaded friend, the Princess San Ferdinando (Anne Bancroft), encourages Mary to accept Edgar's proposal, suggesting that she can take lovers if she is bored. At the Princess's dinner party, Mary meets Rowley Flint (Sean Penn) a rakish, charming American who, despite his married status, has a well-earned reputation as a playboy. At the gathering, Mary also gets the attention of Beppino Leopardi (Massimo Ghini), a sinister, insinuating fascist officer; and Karl Richter (Jeremy Davies), a penniless but passionate Austrian refugee. Later that night, Rowley brazenly advises Mary that entering into a loveless marriage would be a dreadful mistake, and that she would be happier with him.
This encounter emotionally galvanises Mary. In the few days before Edgar returns for her decision, she will become entangled not only with Rowley, but also with Richter and Leopardi. A fervent and impulsive sexual encounter will lead to violence and tragedy, life-or-death actions, and, ultimately, love.
Also starring Derek Jacobi. Written by Belinda Haas from the novella by W Somerset Maugham, directed by Philip Haas.
Cinematic intelligence sources
Special Agent Matti
Tomb with a view.
Tomb: someone dies, ok? Now I won't say who because I don't want to spoil the surprise (even though I'm allowed to spoil surprises because all reviews contain spoilers).
The thing is, if you're a Room with a view kind of filmgoer then you're going to be an Up at the villa filmgoer, too. (it's the same world of privileged English persons with an American and some foreigners thrown in for added colour: Tea with Mussolini with just Italians and no Nazis - not that there was a lot of difference at the time.) Since you're an Up at the villa filmgoer, you really need to not know who dies. If you're not an Up at the villa filmgoer you've already stopped reading this review.
Does this review seem disjointed so far? Perhaps it's the early hour at which I am writing it. I've only just made breakfast so it's a bit difficult to be creative let alone organised: not enough blood sugar.
That's better. Up at the villa has all the right ingredients and pushes all the right buttons to be a good genre film. The acting is more than adequate (Anne Bancroft's drunken Princess is a delight), the design is rich with detail, the romance is honest and the foolishness of a poverty stricken society widow is unflattering in its honesty. To the jaded eye it might seem a tad formulaic, but to the jaded eye everything seems formulaic.
Kristin Scott Thomas carries the weight of the film quite well and has a gamut of experiences to portray. It's obvious why they cast her. Sean Penn, on the other hand, is limited in what he can do because his character is never fully explored (to give the benefit of the doubt, that's so you are as unsure of him as Mary). The best of the male roles is Karl, the down and out passionato. Jeremy Davies works from the guts, unearthing his own passion in the process. That's fun to watch.
All up, you know what to expect from Up at the villa and it doesn't let you down. It could've given you even more than it does, but you can live with that, no worries.
Security censorship classification
M (Low level violence)
115 minutes (1:55 hours)
Not for public release in Australia before date
24 April 2001