Movie Magazine International

The Winter Guest

UK - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

On a day so cold that the sea has frozen over, a woman with a fierce face, mink coat, and sensible shoes marches purposefully across the icy Scottish landscape on mission of life and death. Nearby, the object of that mission, her recently widowed daughter, Frances, sleeps fitfully, little realizing the adventures the day holds in store for her. Thus begins and subtle, moving and ultimately hopeful film, "The Winter Guest."

The cold is more than an element in the film, it's a character in its own right, spurring action and mirroring the cold in Frances' heart left by the death of her husband. Frances' mother, who has the engaging habit of calling everyone cherub, arrives in her daughter's house and immediately begins doing what she does best, speaking the unvarnished truth. And Frances, for her part sums up her feelings on the subject with one line "Say something nice, Mother, try." But the truth of the matter is, the prickly behavior is a front they both put up to mask the fact that they need each other so desperately.

Mother and daughter are played by real life mother and daughter Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson. They easily show the warmth beneath the bickering and I can only reprove Emma for not giving her mother bigger parts in her films sooner. There's boundless energy and mischief hiding behind Phyllida's eyes. She almost steals the film.

The story of a mother dragging her daughter screaming and kicking back to the land of the living is framed by three subplots that act as a framework and touchstone. The first involves two old ladies who are funeral junkies. Two twelve-year-old boys enjoying a furtive day playing hooky. And Frances' teenage son discovering girls in the biblical sense. All these characters explore the pleasures and terrors of their age group and, their chatter about everyday matters touches on the universal.

First-time film director Alan Rickman is skillful, showing the utter stillness of hopeless grief and examining the minutiae and with a fine eye for detail.

"The Winter Guest" is quick to remind us that life is full of pain. The trick is not letting that pain blind us to the wondrous.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 1/12/98

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