The Last September
1999, R, 104 min. Directed by Deborah Warner. Starring Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Lambert Wilson, Keeley Hawes, David Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Richard Roxburgh.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 5, 2000
Not even the rich and nuanced performances of stage veterans Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Jane Birkin can save this British period drama from languishing amid the story's unfocused longings and unrealistic musings. Set in 1920 County Cork, Ireland, The Last September purports to capture the dying moments of a way of life, when the Anglo-Irish aristocracy becomes caught in the middle of the growing tensions between the British Protestants and the Irish Catholics. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Bowen, the story takes place at the estate of Sir Richard (Gambon) and Lady Myra Naylor (Smith), who play host to an assortment of guests and visitors on summer holiday. Their niece Lois (Hawes), who has lived with them since childhood and has now become a young woman, assumes the center of the story as she flits from suitor to suitor, oblivious to the political stirrings around her. Yet, instead of the socially and politically astute movie which this aspires to be, The Last September plays out more like a drawing-room drama, the characters not so much individuals as “types” and the dialogue punctuated not so much by conversations as exclamations. As befits the movie's heavy use of telescopes and images of characters spying on other characters, The Last September has little moments of subtlety and quiet brilliance, but then the script throws it all away with an intrusive clattering of unrealistic behavior, dialogue, or an extreme closeup that leaves nothing to the imagination. Turn to Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis to see this kind of material about the end of an era handled with great delicacy and visual style. The Last September director Warner makes her feature film debut after a notable career directing opera and theatre. But like her characters who continue with their lives while remaining oblivious to the Troubles around them, Warner too plunges ahead oblivious to the fact that her characters are drifting upstream without a paddle.