The Last September (1999)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Psychological Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Apr 28, 2000 (USA)  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - France  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Craig Butler

Like an exquisite ice sculpture, The Last September is beautiful to look at but icy to the touch. Drawn from Elizabeth Bowen's novel, September is impeccably designed and shot and filled with first class performances by a first rate cast. Yet it's so remote and detached that emotional involvement is precluded, which leads to disengagement and disinterest, despite admiration for its many exceptional parts. Director Deborah Warner has worked with her production crew to bring a meticulously detailed period look to the piece, and the atmosphere they create is simply marvelous. The cinematography by Slawomir Idziak is simply stunning, infused with an "aged in wood" glow that perfectly captures the melancholy autumn feel of the tale, and which perfectly captures the feel of the viewer eavesdropping on the scenes being played. In the crucial lead role Keeley Hawes employs every resource at her command, which she needs to do to keep up with the likes of the inimitable Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith and Fiona Shaw. Shaw is the standout, though all are wonderful; her "first among equals" status deriving from the fact that her character is the most interesting. And that points up the big flaw with September; despite the fact that the cast and creative team expend such effort in bringing nuance and detail to the proceedings, it is nuance and detail that serves to individualize without illuminate. Actions happen but the motivations and context are murky and vague, dulling the impact. What is left is an extremely handsome shell, easy to watch and admire but lacking in substance and force.