Drifting serenely through the film as if on a Valium high, Jennifer Ehle plays Alice, a Home Counties wife and mother of two who inherits millions when her volatile but loving husband (Danny Huston) dies of cancer.
At bereavement counselling she meets amiable bearded artist Clive (Patrick Baladi) and a new romance blooms.
However, this sits badly with adolescent son Jack (Arthur Duncan) who takes exception to this interloper who's usurped what he now regards as his position as dominant male.
Jack turns into a spiteful little brat while younger sister Elyssa (Katie Knight) becomes withdrawn and weird. Ten years later, both (now Mark Wells and Amelia Warner) have got worse, Jack's not been home in three years and is barely on speaking terms while Elyssa's heading for a breakdown.
Hoping to reunite her dysfunctional family, Alice throws her estranged son a 21st party.
Things start off frosty and proceed to get worse as flashbacks detail the prickly atmosphere around the house and reveal the reason behind Elyssa's long harboured resentment of her aunt (Trudie Styler) while the present day serves up an array of home truths and betrayals.
While more effective at presenting the frigid polite appearances than the turbulence under the surface, and frustratingly vague in regard to the behaviour of several characters, there's still much to hold the attention in this insightful is detached portrait of repressed British middle-class family and social relationships.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Mike Davies on Alpha Male, 21 September 2006, Birmingham Post.