A precisely cut social commentary, Dance with a Stranger captures the twin woes of austerity and repression that characterized 1950s Britain. Director Mike Newell keeps polemics to a minimum, treating his subject as a carefully observed study of class tension and sexual obsession. He dissects the Ellis-Blakely affair in the measured, diligent manner that one might employ to reconstruct a catastrophic train wreck; since the outcome is a foregone conclusion, Newell finds drama in the forces leading to that conclusion. The film works best as a grim character study, in which character is seen (by society) as an outgrowth of class. As Ruth Ellis, Miranda Richardson exemplifies what happens when one becomes a prisoner of both character and class; coming across as an icy Marilyn Monroe knock-off, Ellis is ruled by the misfortune of loving a man outside both her class and the possibility of human affection. She is ably supported by Rupert Everett, petulant and pretty as her spoiled brat lover, and Ian Holm as Desmond Cussen, whose own quiet obsession with Ellis forcefully complements her obsession with Blakely. Both obsessions are fraught with irrational desperation, but Cussen's ends with a whimper, while Ellis' ends with a fatal bang.