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The Sleeping Dictionary

3.8 out of 5 stars 144 customer reviews

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(Feb 18, 2003)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A sexy and comic love story, set in the 1920s, about an idealistic young British colonial officer who arrives in a remote jungle outpost to find himself assigned a local beauty to sleep with him and teach him the language.


Don't let the title fool you: The Sleeping Dictionary is the most seductive argument for foreign-language education a boy ever had. Hugh Dancy is a young and idealistic colonial official posted to Britain's deep-jungle Sarawak outpost in 1939, and Jessica Alba (Dark Angel) is the "sleeping dictionary," a sexy tutor who proves that the fastest way to learn a language is through lovemaking. Guy Jenkin trades in old clichés for new ones in his revision of the exotic old melodramas of forbidden love between handsome colonial men and gorgeous, guileless native girls. Alba's accent slips and slides but she's a sweet, sexy, and beguiling presence, while Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn uphold the all-important appearance of British morality. If you can overlook the contrivances, it makes for a lush romantic fantasy about the triumph of love over the hypocrisy of so-called civilized society. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Jessica Alba, Brenda Blethyn, Hugh Dancy, Bob Hoskins, Christopher Ling Lee Ian
  • Directors: Guy Jenkin
  • Writers: Guy Jenkin
  • Producers: Chandran Rutnam, Charles Wang, Denise O'Donoghue, Frank Hildebrand, Jimmy Mulville
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: New Line Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: February 18, 2003
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00007LB4B
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,503 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Sleeping Dictionary" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 18, 2004
Format: DVD
"The Sleeping Dictionary" was a direct to video film, which is rather surprisingly given both its cast and its look, as borne out by the film winning four DVD Exclusive Awards in 2003 for Best Actress Jessica Alba, Best Cinematography by Martin Fuhrer, Best Supporting Actor Bob Hoskins, and Best Supporting Actress Brenda Blethyn. This really is too good of a film to be a DVD Premier Movie, but hopefully word will get around, even if it is to check out Jessica Alba wearing colorful tribal outfits.
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.
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Format: Amazon Video
I'm going to preface this review by saying that I think "The Sleeping Dictionary" might have made an excellent movie. But, unfortunately, as it stands--it is more of an interesting failure. Set in 1939 Malaysia, the film's locale does offer a colorful and lush backdrop to the story. Hugh Dancy stars as a British official who is sent into the jungle to "civilize" the natives. His actual job functions, though, are somewhat sketchy and superfluous. Any time the film spends looking at his actual "work" is only done to provide broad culture clash comedy. He meets a Malaysian girl (Jessica Alba) who is to serve as his sleeping dictionary, a term used to describe someone who will teach him the local language and warm his bed. Of course, the two actually fall in love which brings about a whole new series of complications.

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.
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Format: DVD
Despite a sub-par performance by Jessica Alba, I still enjoyed this movie. In fact, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The scenery was beautiful, and the story was intriguing to me of an English colonial attempting to learn the language and culture of a people. Through his education, he finds himself more comfortable with the natives than with his fellow Englishmen.
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.
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Format: DVD
In the not-so-distant past, young British men, fresh out of university, were sent to outposts of the Empire to practice their administrative skills on one of the many races subjugated by the British at the time. This film follows young John Truscott (Hugh Dancy) as he arrives in Sarawak (now part of Malaysia) in 1936 for his stint - he is idealistic, and full of ideas for educating and civilising the primitives. He is startled to be met by a tattooed native who speaks perfect English, and who introduces himself as Belansei (Eugene Salleh). Belansei takes him upriver, where he meets Henry Bullard (Bob Hoskins), who is governor of the district. Truscott is assigned a hut, a cook (who cooks well, but drinks heavily), and, to his surprise, a "sleeping dictionary". A sleeping dictionary, he is informed, is a young woman who will sleep with him and teach him the local language. Truscott is shocked, and upset, although he feels very attracted to Selima (Jessica Alba). He refuses to sleep with her, but offers to learn the language from her. Bullard is angry, because he is rocking the boat and refusing to follow tradition, even though this is the way things have been done for centuries.

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).
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