The Last September (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
This is a period drama about Ireland in the 1920's, when the last generation of the Anglo-Irish aristocrats was trying to decide where they belonged. It is done in the general dignified style of BBC, Masterpiece Theater or Merchant/Ivory.
Here's the historical background:
In 1914, the English revoked the "Home Rule Bill", which had been designed to give Ireland a modicum of autonomy. As you might expect., the Irish were not pleased. Various radical and separatist groups were motivated to action, including Sinn Fein ("we ourselves", founded in 1905), a group which is still known today as the political arm of the IRA.
The Easter Rebellion, in the spring of 1916, marked the beginning of a new era in Irish-English relations. On the day after Easter, the Republicans claimed various government buildings in Dublin, and declared a provisional government of the new Irish Republic. This didn't sit well with the English, who sent in troops the next day, established martial law, rounded up the insurgents and sent the leaders to the firing squad without even any pre-execution crumpets.
I don't know if they thought that this would strike fear into the hearts of the rebels, and quell the insurgency, but if they thought that they were plumb loco, as we say in Texas. Shooting some Irish patriots is like shooting Jason in those horror movies. It just makes them madder. Britain's forceful suppression of the revolt actually strengthened the will of the rebel groups.
Sinn Fein was reorganized under Eamon De Valera, and set up an alternate assembly which claimed to be the legitimate ruling body of Ireland. The British and Irish fought for five or six years, and if you have seen the movie Michael Collins, with Liam Neeson, you're probably familiar with what happened in that time.
The fighting continued until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Collins himself was nominated to head up the team which represented the Republicans in the negotiations with Lloyd George. This treaty incorporated 26 of Ireland's 32 counties. I believe you know pretty much what has happened to the other six counties over the years. Actually, the 26 to the South weren't so tranquil, either, in those days. Even patriotic Irish leaders were split over the proper nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship, and the Free State treaty had opponents from every extreme of the political spectrum.
OK, enough background.
The point is that there was a bloc of English-Irish creoles, people of English descent who were born in Ireland or whose children were born in Ireland, and who considered themselves both good Irishmen and good subjects of the Crown. Many of them had gone there originally to be government administrators. When Ireland became a battleground in the teens and twenties, these people found themselves at the September of their era, with the end clearly in sight. They were not able to continue in their former glory, and they had no viable alliances to forge a new life. Irish Republicans certainly didn't want them in the new free Ireland, and yet their divided loyalty made them suspect by the British as well. So they wondered desperately what to do, tried to stay alive, and cried a lot as they planned to leave their great estates and move to two-room flats in Toronto.
This movie chronicles the lives of those people, the Anglo-Irish, in that time, the 1920's.Needless to say, for the purpose of dramatic contrast, the lovely young Anglo-Irish daughter is flirting with both a British soldier (who is unacceptable to her family because of his social status), and an Irish radical (who is a violent outlaw, and therefore even more unacceptable). Her relationships with the two men leave her walking a dangerous tightrope in a netless society.
The cinematography is magnificent. You may not have heard of Slavomir Idziak, but he was Kieslowski's cinematographer, and he's in his element here, working with a director who idolizes Kieslowski, and a composer who scored many of Kieslowski's films. If you had told me, "Oh, yeah, it's a rare English language film from Kieslowski", I would have believed you until I looked at the 1999 date. (Kieslowski died a few years earlier). Despite the film's beautiful look, I thought the story was pretty much of a complete snoozefest. I found it too middlebrow and historical-romance-novelish to be a great movie, and too damned slow and boring to be good entertainment. Someday this historical backdrop may make for an brilliant movie. Not this day, however.
The Last September (1999) is an adaptation of a novel by a notable Anglo-Irish author named Elizabeth Bowen. An Anglo/Irish co-production which IMDb lists as French, it is a first film by theater director Deborah Warner, and has an all-star cast of acting talent including Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Fiona Shaw and Michael Gambon. It is set in September of 1920 during the period when the British control of Ireland was challenged by Irish rebels, and it was obvious to the members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy that life as they knew it was about to end and that their grand family houses would have to be abandoned . The story takes place at one such house.
So far, I am describing an historical drama, but this film is actually a love story, which may account for the sharp division among critics.
Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith, solid members of the Anglo-Irish ruling tribe, preside over a grand house, which fills with visitors trying to enjoy September, but having trouble with the violent backdrop that continuously reminds them of impending change. Their niece, played by then newcomer Keeley Hawes, is now of age, and seems to be in love with romance. She has a suitor, a dashing captain with the British Army that is too far beneath her social station for anything permanent, and she has an interest in the brother of her best friend, a member of the resistance.
Lambert Wilson and Jane Birkin arrive as houseguests, trying to hide the fact that they are now homeless. Fiona Shaw, who is also in her own "Last September" as she is again engaged, but this time at an age where she can't break it off, and will have to wed a stuffy old stockbroker. She does become the friend and confidant of Keeley Hawes. In fact, many in the cast are gong through their own "Last Septembers" giving the title extra meaning. In addition to the acting talent, County Cork and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak became important characters in this film.
If you like historical dramas and love stories, you might enjoy this one. If not, at 103 minutes, it will be a long, long watch.
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