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The Sleeping Dictionary
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The setting is Sarawak, Malaysia in 1937, when young John Truscott (Hugh Dancy), fresh out of university (where he tended to read books), has come to serve his Majesty's government as an official of the Empire. The regional governor is Henry Bullard (Hoskins), who oversees the Iban, a tribe of friendly headhunters. John, like his father, has a dream of educating the Iban children, but that requires him to learn the local language and customs. The governor arranges for John to have a "sleeping dictionary," a local girl who will both teach the young Englishmen to speak the language and tutor him in the ways of love.
The girl selected for John is Selima (Alba), who is half Iban and have British. John initially resists the second part of his education, but in the end falls in love with this beautiful and sensual woman, which violates the taboos of both cultures. Meanwhile, the governor wants his daughter, Cecil (Emily Mortimer) to marry John, and the situation conspires to give our young hero no choice but to stick to the elitist traditions of his own people.Read more ›
Now if this is supposed to be 1939 Malaysia, it is absolutely the most modernized and Westernized version possible. I couldn't take this picture seriously for a moment. Getting past that, though, the first half of the movie wants to be a frothy comedy while the second half shifts focus into a romantic tragedy. This jarring tonal switch is not wholly effective. By playing the first part so light, the film doesn't get us to invest in its story or characters. When things turn more serious, then, it might hold your interest but you are never emotionally involved.
I actually like the fact that Jessica Alba wanted to try a film of a more serious nature, but sadly she falls short. Half the picture, she slinks around like a playful kitten uttering lines more fitting to a modern romantic comedy than a period piece. It's so out of place as to be disconcerting, but most of the blame really falls on the script's shortcomings.Read more ›
Hugh Dancy and Bob Hoskins turn in good performances. In many ways, they keep the movie afloat. Jessica just seemed a bit out of place. I've seen her act. I know she can do a good job. She simply didn't seem to have a solid handle on her character. Her accent was about as credible as Kevin Costner's in Robin Hood. But, I was able to look past this and enjoy this film.
Also, anyone who rents this film with the hopes of "seeing" Jessica topless is in for a disappointment. It is a body-double, confirmed by Jessica Alba herself. Any time you don't see the actor/actress's face, 9 times out of 10, it is a body double. And anyone who knows anything about making movies aside from watching them knows that just because the cut to the face of the actor/actress, is not an indicator that it is the actor/actress doing the nude scene. Anytime the movie "cuts" is an indication of a new shot, therefore, not filmed in a single, unending sequence.
So, if you are interested in a good story and some great scenery, than this film should work for you. If you're hoping to catch a glimpse of Jessica, then you best move on.
Truscott yields to propinquity, however, and falls in love with Selima, and she with him. This love is deepened when they experience danger together. He wants to marry her, but this is forbidden by British traditions, and all manner of retribution will fall upon them should they persist. Instead, Bullard's wife, the manipulative Aggie (Brenda Blethyn), pushes him to marry her daughter Cecilia (Emily Mortimer, who plays this role in unflattering make-up so she looks plain).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
very entertaining and what more could you ask for; action/adventure and love story.Published 11 days ago by D. Clemons
I liked this movie for its portrayal of times gone by in the British Empire and the way British administrators solved problems when there were no other means but local ones to use. Read morePublished 22 days ago by William G. Martin
The young commander,although loving the native "tutor", marries the daughter of the region's British governor under cultural duress. However, real love wins out.Published 4 months ago by Viewer Choices