"Century" is everything "The Age of Innocence" wanted to be and wasn't: an atmospheric recreation of the mood and feeling of a vanished time. Martin Scorsese tried to accomplish this with an extravagant budget and extended close-ups of lavish meals. But money and food, however useful in real life, shouldn't have the burden of stealing scenes from the actors. With a much smaller budget, writer-director Stephen Poliakoff has kept the focus where it belongs in "Century", on the superb cast who interpret his excellent screenplay.
The progressive doctor played with languid charm by Charles Dance is a man who appears far ahead of the late nineteenth century, but in fact, his influence is forever trapped within it because of a fatal flaw. The young medical student earnestly played by Clive Owen is inspired by Dance's character but ultimately disillusioned by him. His immigrant father, wonderfully Played by the late Sir Robert Stephens, wants to give a spectacular welcome to the new age in his adopted country. And the shimmering Miranda Richardson, as one of the women employed in Dance's medical institute, is determined to make a free-spirited life for herself, regardless of the obstacles.
The conflict between Dance and Owen is at the heart of the film: Dance hires women (and one black man) to work at his institute and treats them with respect. He gives his students valuable training and the chance to learn on the job. He even encourages Owen's independent medical research, as long as he and everyone else recognises who's in charge. But Dance has his own murky agenda, carefully concealed from the wealthy benefactress who backs the institute (the great Joan Hickson, seen all-too-briefly in two marvelous sequences with Owen).
After the frustrated Owen discovers what Dance is really up to, he enlists Richardson's help and graduates from devoted admirer to fierce adversary. The battle is only partly successful: the fledgling medical pioneer loses valuable research opportunities by taking on the system that once nurtured him. And that, in a way, is the point of "Century": however we rage against the inequities in our own time, it will always have the edge on us. Poliakoff and cast drive that point home with fresh and startling meaning.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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