The Governess (1998) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

The Governess (1998) was a film that I enjoyed more the second time I watched it.

Minnie Driver plays a young Jewess whose father dies, leaving the family hurting financially. Pretending to be a Christian, she takes a job as a governess to a Scottish family. The father of the family is a scientist trying to discover the secret of "fixation" to make photos last more than a day. Minnie not only seduces him, but discovers the secret of fixation and becomes a master photographer. Of course, the father takes all the credit.

Portions of the film are beautifully shot, and on second watching, I think it was more that imagery that impressed me, because I remembered the story.


Driver shows a breast in two scenes, and a great nude shot from the back. An unknown hooker shows a breast early in the film as well.

Scoop's notes in yellow:

  • It is good to see a film come along now and again which targets people with more than room temperature IQ's. While this film occasionally wandered off in a precious direction, it is an intelligent and thought-provoking effort. How many of those are there?
  • I enjoyed the male/female take on the photographic process the father and the governess were developing together. She saw it as an inchoate art form, and as a way to capture memories and emotions. He saw it as a way to chronicle scientific experiments.
  • Tom Wilkinson, the father in this film, was finally nominated for an Oscar in 2001 for In the Bedroom. Although that was actually one of his least inspired roles, it was certainly gratifying to see Hollywood finally recognize one of the hardest workers and one of the most dependable actors in the English-speaking world.
  • Minnie Driver showed great promise in this film, and demonstrated that she was capable of far more than her usual role as the designated girlfriend. Unfortunately, we never saw that seed come to fruition in the subsequent years. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen 1.78:1 and a full-screen version

  • no meaningful features

  • I really liked the parts of the film that concentrated on the relationship between the governess (Driver) and the father of the family (Wilkinson). The slow development of their sexual tension was erotic. The father was fighting his attraction to a younger woman who was not only beautiful and his intellectual match, but who genuinely wanted him. We could see what he could not - that his resistance was a losing effort.
  • Unfortunately, there was also a sub-plot about her relationship with the son, and this part irritated the hell out of me. It was completely over-the-top in that special way that only sexually hysterical pubescent Victorians could be. Imagine Wuthering Heights times five.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 3/5, Apollo 70/100, 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.3/10, Apollo voters 72/100
  • with their dollars: $4 million domestic gross, arthouse distribution


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it must be at least a C+ (both reviewers). It is a costume drama, which is usually not my favorite genre, and I didn't mind this one.

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