The White Countess (2006)

Ismail Merchant’s last film as producer, and one of the best to have his and James Ivory’s fingerprints over it, benefits from what is basically a story that once would have had, say, Joan Crawford and Errol Flynn in it, as the Russian countess turned cheap dance hall hostess in ‘30s Shanghai, and the blind American diplomat who’s disillusioned, drunk, and wants to open his own bar. As it is, Natasha Richardson and Ralph Fiennes fill the parts, neither of whom scream “screen passion”, but Fiennes’ playing of broken-hearted misery is strong. Ivory’s direction is hamstrung by its usual limitations – a self-important style that seems oblivious to its own sophistry. But there’s color, atmosphere, and, in the last quarter, some exciting melodrama.

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