1989, NC-17, 84 min. Directed by Nick Broomfield. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Amanda Donohoe, Struan Rodger, Douglas Hodge.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 16, 1991
Oh, the moral bankruptcy of the British upper classes. Dark Obsession is the latest movie to emphasize this point. It's not a novel commentary but it does deliver it with a stylish flair and a steadfast conviction. The story begins with Hugo Buckton (Byrne), an ex-guards officer and landed aristocrat, who is harboring a growing obsession that his wife, Lady Virginia (Donohoe) is having an affair with her Argentinian business associate. Hugo spends his time socializing with his old titled school chums who spend their time drinking and giving each other piggyback rides around the room. One night after such dinner cavorting, the gang hops in one of their cars (with Hugo at the wheel) and darts off into the night for further carousing. By this point Hugo is beginning to have visions/flashbacks/hallucinations about his wife. As he's driving he runs over a woman standing in the road, fatally injuring her. It's possible that Hugo, in his addled mental state, may have momentarily mistaken the victim for his wife. The group decides to speed off into the night without reporting the accident, though the owner of the car feels differently. These events all occur within the opening moments of the film. The bulk of Dark Obsession consists of the group's conspiracy of silence and management of guilt. It's here that the movie bogs down and becomes rather British. The power plays, mind control and whitewashing are all handled very subtlely and aristocratically, which have a cinematically passive and undynamic effect. As Hugo, Byrne is hard to figure in this movie: he's an indecipherable presence whose obsessive tendencies and gentrified moral code are made more clear by what other characters tell us about him rather than anything he details on his own. Donohoe (L.A. Law, Lair of the White Worm) here again proves her willingness to take on sexually adventurous screen roles and shows that she is truly someone worth obsessing about. Indeed, this movie has received an NC-17 rating for its provocative though discrete and fleeting sex scenes. Dark Obsession is visually alluring to look at and rife with potential but director Broomfield never seems to bring it to any dramatic boiling point. Like many an obsession, it's all dressed up with nowhere to go.