Film Review: Enchanted April (1991)


After decades of being associated with quality television, BBC began to use some that reputation on big screen, mostly through period dramas or comedies. Although such productions had lower budgets than those of Hollywood or Merchant Ivory, they had success with audience and, most importantly, among critics. One of those was Enchanted April, 1991 film directed by Mike Newell.

The film is based on the eponymous novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, which had been adapted in 1935 Hollywood. The new version begins in London few years after First World War. Two women who barely know each other – Lottie Wilkins (played by Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (played by Miranda Richardson) – find that they have some things in common, mainly unhappiness in their marriages. Lottie is married to penny-pinching solicitor Mellersh Wilkins (played by Alfred Molina) and Rose to Frederick Arbuthnot (played by Jim Broadbent), writer of racy novels who prefers his spend his time at glamorous high society parties than with his family. Lottie and Rose decide to escape from monotony by answering the ad offering a month of accommodation in Italian seaside castle. They are joined by two very different women – young and beautiful socialite Caroline Dester (played by Polly Walker) who wants to escape men’s attention and Mrs. Fisher (played by Joan Plowright), elderly woman who lives in past and reminisces of meeting great Victorian writers in her childhood.

Like most BBC period dramas, Enchanted April tries to be as faithful to the source as possible. That included choice of shooting location – Castello Brown, historic castle in Portofino in which von Arnim wrote the original novel and whose complicated geography created a lot of difficulties for production. Newell nevertheless did a solid job, fitting the plot into easily digestible hour and half of running time. Cast is, like with many such British productions, is very good and diverse. Veteran actress Joan Plowright, until that time best known as Lawrence Olivier’s widow, is great in the role that successfully mixes gravitas with humour. Polly Walker also fares good as semi-rebellious seductress. Miranda Richardson, who is at the time best known for villainous roles, is also good as woman who, despite her seemingly plain looks, can arouse men’s attention. Josie Lawrence, on the other hand, tries too hard at the beginning of the film and her enthusiasm for trip to Italy might be mistaken for psychosis. General impression is saved by Alfredo Molina and Jim Broadbent who play protagonists’ slightly buffoonish but well-intentioned husbands, and those performances inject just enough humour in the film to put smile on the viewer’s face. Script by esteemed playwright Peter Barnes, on the other hand, depends too much on the viewer’s knowledge of British class system and the effect First World War had on national psyche; the plot seems to be weak and the resolution rather predictable. In the end, Enchanted April, despite being loved by critics and have some prestigious awards nomination, isn’t as good as its reputation. On the other hand, Enchanted April can serve its ultimate purpose and entertain the audience, at least if we are to believe US President George H. W. Bush who chose exactly this film to cheer himself up after losing election to Bill Clinton.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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