Asylum - Review
Review by Jack Foley
SEXUAL obsession and its devastating impact on those caught in its grip form the basis for this dark but compelling morality tale that benefits from another excellent screenplay from Closer’s Patrick Marber.
Set in Britain during the late 1950s, the film focuses on Stella (Natasha Richardson), a feisty independent spirit who has become trapped in a loveless marriage to her psychiatrist husband, Max (Hugh Bonneville).
When the family moves to a remote high-security mental asylum Stella is drawn into a passionate affair with one of the inmates, a convicted wife-killer named Edgar (Marton Csokas).
But when Edgar escapes and rumours start to circulate of Stella’s infidelity, she is given a choice – to flee with her lover, or face the consequences of her actions.
Blinded by passion, Stella opts for the first choice, thereby setting into a motion a catastrophic chain of events that can only end in tragedy for all concerned.
Watching this tug-of-love unfold, however, is another of the asylum’s top psychiatrists, Peter (Ian McKellen), who would seem to have his own personal agenda for letting things take their course.
Directed by David Mackenzie (of Young Adam fame), Asylum is a bleak and occasionally rushed effort that frequently makes for depressing and uncomfortable viewing.
Yet for those with a taste for darker material (which combines the lust of Lady Chatterly’s Lover with the depression of Vera Drake) it is certainly worth checking out.
McKellen, in particular, seems to thrive on Marber’s complex screenplay, while Bonneville, as the wronged husband, provides the film’s one sympathetic character.
But there are times when Richardson plays things a little too distanced as to be distracting, while Csokas broods with the intensity of a young Russell Crowe without ever really generating any chemistry with his leading lady.
It means that many of Asylum’s central characters are simply too cold for the audience to warm to, thereby diminishing the emotional impact of the tragedy.
As an exploration of sexual obsession and desire, however, it does excel, while also observing the rules and regulations of 50s society immaculately.
It means that while some of the plot twists are obvious from the outset, the motivations of certain characters aren’t always so crystal clear – making Asylum a grim but fascinating experience.
Just don’t expect to feel uplifted!