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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sexually charged film of obsession and betrayal
I have to disagree with several viewers on the notion that this film lacked certain substance. Minnie Driver delivers a sexually ignited and thoughtful performance as Rosalina, "Mary", a 19th century woman forced to hide her true identity in Protestant and Conservative upper-class Scotland. She does this in order to support her destitute family in London...
Published on August 10, 2000

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eye Candy
The strength of this film is not in the plot or the depth of characters. In 19th Century London, a wealthy Jewish merchant is murdered and, for some unknown reason, leaves his family destitute. His intelligent and ambitious daughter pretends to be Christian in order to accept a position as governess for a dysfunctional family living in Scotland. She immediately, and...
Published on January 24, 2000 by Neil Turner


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sexually charged film of obsession and betrayal, August 10, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Governess [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I have to disagree with several viewers on the notion that this film lacked certain substance. Minnie Driver delivers a sexually ignited and thoughtful performance as Rosalina, "Mary", a 19th century woman forced to hide her true identity in Protestant and Conservative upper-class Scotland. She does this in order to support her destitute family in London after the murder of her father. She takes a governess position to the highly respected, upper-class Cavendish family. This family has a scientest patriarch consumed with his research in capturing photographic images on paper. He ignores his wife and children in order to conduct his work. He allows Mary to be his research assistant when he sees how intelligent and curious her mind is.
I found it interesting that he refused to capture any images that represent human or living forms in his research. I felt that this reflected his inability to connect himself to other humans, including his bored and highly-proper wife. Mary comes into the picture and provides a burst of humanity and warmth in the stuffy and pretentious atmosphere. This warmth and presence that Minnie delivers so well on the screen, is irresistable to Mr. Cavendish, as well as his children. She brings this serious man out of his box and they begin a torrid affair. His wife is oblivious. She is in her own world most of the time.
When Mr. Cavendish cannot accept that he has such intense feelings for Mary, he pushes her away. The ending, which I won't give away, was moving and quite satisfying.
I thought the film was beautifully done, in particular the scenes where Mary is posing for the camera. Minnie Driver looks like she stepped out of a painting from antiquity. Even though Tom Wilkinson (Mr. Cavendish) is not your stereotypical Hollywood "hunk", he provides the sexual chemistry of a man obsessed. This makes his performance not only challenging, but rewarding. Mary loves him on many levels, not just physical ones, but they connect in their minds as well as their hearts.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ahh...romance in Scotland....with Jonathan, July 7, 2002
By 
Valerie Miller (Thousand Oaks, California United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
My interest in The Governess was piqued when I heard that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (as Henry Cavendish) appears in a decidedly supporting - but delicious role. Having seen some of his previous films (Velvet Goldmine and Ride with the Devil) I was very pleased to see that this film was a departure for him as he is usually cast as a theatrically effeminate villian-type. Here, he plays the young love-lorn son of the vindictive lord of the Manor played by Tom Wilkinson. He hopelessly pines for Rosina (Minnie Driver) and is crushed at the end when his affections are denied. I was glad to see his normally over-the-top acting style was gracefully curtailed yet intense at the same time. It's long and tedious at times (as most British films tend to crawl by for American audiences), but at the end, it seems like you have just had the satisfaction of reading a poignant bestselling novel. The movie itself has the complex and metaphoric plot of a good novel, but keeps to a central character without dallying in unrelated side-plots. I like this movie for grey, rainy afternoons on the couch with a friend who is a novelist. Or not. Forget that, watch it whenver you like. It's good anytime. Watch it for culture and perspective.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better the second time around... a family in need of Freud, September 7, 2004
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
I am a period movie fan. I first saw this film when it was new in the rental stores. At the time I thought it was interesting, but it did not rate as high as other films I was into. Recently I decided to watch it again while I was fiending for a movie with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in it and I must say it was worth a second viewing.

Minnie Driver plays Rosina, a young Jewish woman who must find employment to help support her family after the murder of her father. She gets hired at a home in Scotland by cold woman with two children and a husband who spends the bulk of his time pursuing new innovations in the Photographic field. Quickly she is swept up in the morose nature of this family, but she finds joy in the studio with the lord of the manor and an unexpected love affair as well.

The casting of this movie was well done. Driver's performance as the ingenue suits her well and she captivates as the driving force behind the plot. Tom Wilkinson, who plays her love interest Charles Cavendish, is also well matched as the isolated naturalist who cannot bring himself to face the timultuous emotions the young Rosina inspires in him. As for the reason I chose to rewatch the film, Meyers is as engaging as always as the young college man who fixates his desire on Rosina nearly from the moment he meets her. The cinematography is also stunning, the gray and black tones of color set the mood of the film and the location is a fitting backdrop for this brooding story, whether or not it is actually Scotland I am not sure, but it comes off well none the less. And the scenes where Cavendish is shooting pictures of Rosina are simply wonderful.

My only real complaint about the film was that it lacked a bit of subtance when it came to the family. I would have liked to have more explanation about why the family was so dysfunctional. The mother spends all of her time obsessing about London society, though she has never been there before. Charles Cavendish obsesses over his work and not much else, although he manages his to air bigotry and male chauvinism often enough. The daughter, Clementina, only cares about drawing attention to herself and does so by showing off her dead animals and telling her disturbing dreams to anyone who might listen, and Henry Cavendish spends most of his time chasing after Rosina and engaging in generally creepy behavior because he was drawn to her differences and because he liked to shock his family, as demonstrated by his expulsion from school due to being found in an opium den. What draws a family to act like this? I don't know, because it was never hashed out anywhere in the film, and I like to think that Scotland is probably not as dreary as this film portrays it, certainly not dreary enough to lead people to behave like this.

Overall, not a bad film though. I enjoyed it so much more the second time through. Definitely worthwhile for any fan of period dramas, Minnie Driver, or Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (who shines in every scene he is in.) If you like dark melodrama or gothic films this is a must see.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget the artsy-fartsy reviews---this movie entertains, June 27, 2006
By 
KK (Missouri, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
If you're looking for an entertaining coming-of-age story, and you like seeing misty country scenes, and Minnie Driver in big black dresses, and you are willing to reflect a little on anti-Semitism, and the isolation of the landed gentry, I suggest you buy this movie. It delivers. It's a very good movie. It also has enough to it that if you want to "think deeply" about the symbolism, and character development, and the camera angles and blah blah blah, you can do that, too. It's just a good, solid movie.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully shot, the story of a pre-Victorian feminist, April 11, 2000
This review is from: The Governess [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Set in 1840, England, between the times of King George and Queen Victoria, this is the story of a Jewish woman, Rosina Da Silva (Minnie Driver), who after the death of her beloved father, is asked to marry quickly and marry "well" so that the debt-ridden family can maintain its standards of living. Rosina is headstrong, and rejects a marriage proposal from an older, boring man. She would rather be an actress. She takes a job as a nanny for the Cavendish family on the uninviting, desolate, Isle of Skye. She changes her name to Mary BlackChurch to mask her Jewish identity, and is accepted as one of the family. Like Queen Esther of the Purim holiday, she masks her identity and takes up residence in a palace-like household. And then Mr. Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson), an inventor who is focusing his scientific work on photography, takes an interest in Mary/Rosina, as does the Cavendish's teenage son, Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Beautifully shot, like the photos Cavendish is trying to develop and stabilize. A tad cliché with the pre-Victorian romantic lines. Contains nudity. First 10 minutes contain shots of "recreated" London (actually Venetian style) synagogue and "Sephardic" Jewish life. By the way, the writer / director Goldbach is the progeny of an Italian-Jewish father and Scottish mother. Contains music by the late Israeli singer, Ofra Haza, and Edward Shearmur.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A window to a beautiful--and beautified--world, February 17, 2003
By 
Tanya Lamnin (West Bloomfield, MI, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
The film starts with the celebration of Purim--a very fun, carnival-like, Jewish holiday--amongst the Sephardic (Spanish & Portguese) Jews of 1830s London. We see a synagogue, supposedly the 1700s Bevis Marks, and a rabbi leading the sermon--and wearing a top hat. This is not a usual portrayal of Jews--the synagogue is full of men in top hats, and the heroine, Rosina da Silva, is sitting in the gallery wearing a beautiful Spanish mantilla. There is no persecution, Rosina's family is not benighted--rather, they are fairly wealthy (as Rosina walks into her house, a maid drops her a curtsy) and worldly, but still steeped deeply and beautifully in their own customs (Rosina wears a Spanish headdress; Rosina and her suitor, Benjamin, dance a lovely dance in two circles of women and men, respectively, never touching, but darting glances at each other--to the tune of the nearly 1000-year-old Avram Avinu). The outside world is no more than a curiosity: the inspired discussion between Rosina and her younger sister centers about the mysterious desert that gentile have--it looks like semen and is called semolina (naturally, when Rosina comes to live with the as-gentile-as-possible family off the coast of Scotland, guess what she gets for desert?). Rosina's world is beautiful--it's music, laughter, beautiful fabrics, dancing, bright candle-light.
Outside, unfortunately, is Whitechapel--and it breaks into the happy celebration, when Rosina's father is stuck with a knife in the street outside. Here, it is possible to see the clash of the sheltered Jewish inside and the brutal outside. Rosina's mother, shaken, is whispering: "We do not get murdered... We do not have debts..."
Faced with the prospect of marrying a rather repellent fish merchant (a very similar character to Sholem Aleichem's disgusting Reb Leizer Wulf), Rosina chooses employment instead--as a governess. Of course, she over-dramatizes, and makes up for herself as Christian name as possible: Mary Blackchurch. Named so, she is hired by a gentile family in the Isle of Skye; the mother is boring and bored, dreaming of London, where she had never been, as if it is her rightful place to be there; the daughter--Rosina's charge--is a bit devilish; the father dabbles in "science" (in photography, Rosina later discovers)--and suffers because he cannot capture the images he makes, having no fixation: they fade, after a day or so, into nothingness; and the son has been sent down from Oxford after having been found in an opium den with a prostitute (supposedly). There, Rosina will become her employer's assistant--and mistress.
I loved the casting of Minnie Driver as Rosina--she has the archetypal Jewish beauty, and her black dresses and Spanish mantillas contrast beautifully with her mistress' ridiculous hairdos. Tom Wilkinson as Cavendish, Rosina's employer and love interest, I did not love quite as much. There was very little chemistry between them from the beginning; had Cavendish possessed a bit more charm, you could write it off on superficial attraction. Here, you only had to wonder what on earth has she found in him--enough to overcome her modesty? He looks tired and old and ruffled...
Rosina's exploits into photography are beautifully done--from the subject matter of Cavendish's experiments (mostly dead birds' wings), to her discovery of the saline fixation (during her lonely Passover celebration, she spills a bit of salt water onto one of Cavendish's fading prints, and it keeps the picture from fading), to the photo sessions in which they photograph each other, to Rosina's later work in London, where she uses a camera obscura to capture the beauty of her own people.
In general, the film itself is a bit like a camera obscura--one has the feeling of looking into dark box, and a world, wholly unexpected and wildly beautiful, is looking back at you. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the early Victorian era.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fixation of memory and the essence of people, August 4, 2004
This review is from: The Governess [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This movie, set in the late 1830's or early 1840's, combines the divide between Jews and Gentiles, the struggles women had to have in a patriarchal society, and the search for a permament fixative agent in photography.

Rosina is a young Jewish women whose father unexpectedly dies. This is disaster for women, because their career options were limited to three: marriage, prostitution, or domestic employment. Rosina though is quite plucky, and after a meeting with an elderly fishmonger, says she'd rather be a prostitute. Fortunately, she finds a situation in the paper, much to the distress of her mother, who wants her to carry on the tradition and be married to a Jew. However, she has to change her name to something more English, change into more acceptable clothing, and for her new adventure, to learn math and the New Testament.

Undaunted, Rosina, going by the alias Mary Blackchurch, goes to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and the Cavendishes to become a governess for their daughter Clementina. The mother is a bit of an insipid and weak-willed woman mostly in bed, whom Rosina/Mary describes as "speak[ing] like she has a lemon up her posterior." The daughter is a little horror at first, but they become friends. As for Charles Cavendish, he's busy working on research trying to find that elusive fixative process in photography. Rosina has had lot of learning from her family, and interested, becomes his assistant. He has some sample photos, but they quickly dissolve after exposure to sunlight. However, due to a serendipitous accident, Rosina discovers it, much to their delight. His disinterest in capturing human faces changes when Rosina becomes his subject, and before long, that blossoms into an affair. Rosina herself finds herself in a privileged position, as both she and Cavendish will become famous after reporting their findings to the Royal Society. This will thrust her above the ordinary woman, especially considering she's Jewish. She becomes more confident, more so than any woman. In short, she considers herself Cavendish's equal, and it's her own turn behind the lens that leads to disaster.

The concept of photography was quite revolutionary when formulated by Niepce and his partner Daguerre. As Rosina observes, photography captures the essence of people. The fixative agent serves to fix the memory of people. Nowadays, we take photography for granted, but think of what it meant back then, proof that someone existed, a visual historical document, that also influenced the schools of art. And only a privileged few could master the technique. And think what it meant for photographers like Matthew Brady in the Civil War or Jacob Riis in the 1890's.

The scene of Cavendish taking his pictures of Mary is revealing, as we see his single eye through the peephole of the camera, which then closes, after which the picture is taken. While it represents photographer and subject, it also represents the barrier between men and women as well as English and Jew. On one side of the lens, there are the favoured, men and English, who can see everything. All Jews and women can see is the eye of the elite looking at them, signifying their powerlessness. The fact that Mary gets that opportunity shows how lucky and plucky she is with the roles reversed.

As Rosina/Mary, Minnie Driver puts a lot into a very complex character. Initially, the viewer learns how Rosina wants to be on stage. The rich learning from her family lends to her scientific and rational capacity, but her romantic and idealistic side comes into play once she succeeds and feels she could be anything she wanted. In contrast, Tom Wilkinson's Cavendish is someone unable to cope with his mind out of control, in the realms of passion, more comfortable with passionless and dry science, objects as opposed to people. And it's a discomfort that turns to anger. Arlene Cockburn, who plays Lily the maid, also appeared in The Winter Guest as the tomboyish Nita.

An interesting movie that may go a bit long, but boosted by Minnie Driver, who's at her most sensuous here.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eye Candy, January 24, 2000
By 
Neil Turner (Annapolis, Maryland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
The strength of this film is not in the plot or the depth of characters. In 19th Century London, a wealthy Jewish merchant is murdered and, for some unknown reason, leaves his family destitute. His intelligent and ambitious daughter pretends to be Christian in order to accept a position as governess for a dysfunctional family living in Scotland. She immediately, and simplistically, wins over her charge, an irritating little girl. Soon , the governess becomes an assistant to the reclusive father who is obsessed with finding a way to preserve photo images. Add a discontented mother who hates being stuck in Scotland and an obsessive post-adolescent son and you have a standard plot. What makes "The Governess" so enjoyable are the beautiful and intriguing images of the people and places. The film is candy for the eyes. Sit back and enjoy the sights and don't worry too much about the plot.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensual and riveting, May 28, 2002
By 
K. Carter (Alexandria, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Governess [VHS] (VHS Tape)
First, I would like to comment upon some of the superficial and trite comments linking physical attractiveness to love. Is everyone really so shallow that love can only occur between the very young or the very attractive? Is it not possible to love someone for creativity, intellect or talent? The Governess was an extraordinary, breath taking period piece. Rosina (Mary Blackchurch) becomes interested in her employer's experiments with photography fixation and subsequently falls in love (while pursued by the employer's son). Rosina's first experience with love is tumultuous and passionate. The secrets surrounding her religion helps to add conflict to the already doomed relationship. Rosina's employer, played brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson, shared her passion but was unable to embrace the new emotions awakened within. The reclusive Charles Cavendish, like his castle, was at times dim and hollow. Unsuccessfully, Rosina (Minnie Driver) tries to bring life to an otherwise cold and lifeless environment. Some viewers have wondered why the Rosina character would fall for the father, when the allegedly more attractive son (Henry) was so obviously smitten. Considering the immature and bizarre behavior of Henry Cavendish (played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), should anyone wonder at all? The senior Cavendish despite his shortcomings possessed a mysteriously masculine allure that would charm any young woman looking for both a lover and a father figure. It is also important for viewers to remember that this film is set in Scotland, during the 1800's.... Unfortunately, in this story the viewer will witness that love (alone) is not always enough to sustain a relationship. In the end, Rosina shows a strength and bravery that most modern folk's lack. This film is well done and worth watching.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this movie!, March 1, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Governess (DVD)
Minnie Driver was excellent and Tom Wilkinson took my breath away. The passion he showed in his eyes was beautiful and he is a fine, fine actor. I loved his nude scene, we need to see more older men like that...being sensual and real. If I see anymore depictions of one dimensional sexuality(older men running around subways with guns drawn to win over some Barbie Doll)I'm going to spit.
The plot was interesting and the characters were well cast. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was great, as always. The photography was gorgeous. I just loved this movie!
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The Governess
The Governess by Sandra Goldbacher (DVD - 1999)
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