Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Camomile Lawn DVD review

This is the first review for the Region 1 Camomile Lawn DVD, from Metronews.

The Camomile Lawn
Acorn/Paradox DVD box set
*** 1 / 2 (out of five)

This 1992 miniseries adaptation of Mary Wesley's novel is set mostly in wartime Britain, a world recognizable from movies and TV — ration books and bomb shelters, cardboard gas mask cases, air raid wardens, blackout curtains, black markets and last, desperate leaves before heading into battle.

The overdue innovation was to show how war and death changed society, and young people, irrevocably. There's a case to be made that the sexual revolution didn't begin in the '60s with a demographic bulge of restless young people, but 20 years earlier with their parents, eagerly seeking out love, sex and comfort with the reasonable certainty that they might not be alive to deal with the consequences.

Jennifer Ehle and Tara Fitzgerald play cousins who watch the complacent moral certainties of the upper middle classes, in which they've been confidently raised, get shredded under the pressures of war. Ehle's Calypso, the beauty of their circle, admits that she loves the war — the thrill and adventure, the abundance of young men in uniform, the sense of life being lived to its fullest. Her quieter cousin Polly (Fitzgerald) also "liberates" herself in the new wartime society, discovering that she's in love with twin brothers, who seem content to share her.

Almost everyone, in fact, ends up breaking away from social convention by the time the first bombs of the Blitz start dropping, including the girls' aunt Helena and her stuffy husband Richard, whose marriage becomes a very open one after they swap partners with a Jewish refugee couple. Almost all of the characters inhabit a world where breeding and manners are supposed to compensate for pathological rudeness and self-centredness, a tone that Kenneth Taylor captures very nicely from Wesley's novel. While it might be hard to sympathize with Wesley's characters — Calypso is particularly heartless — the truth of her depiction of life during wartime is hard to deny.

Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto

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