A Handful of Dust
2/4
poster

Details & Information from IMDB

Genre Comedy
Year 1988
Duration 118 min
Rating 6.8 out of 10
Description: The wife's affair and a death in the family hasten the demise of an upper-class English marriage.
Comments: I will admit, I was not a fan of this film during the first fifteen minutes when it nearly went into the "Period Film Sleeping Bag" category, but after you get through this first hump (which is to wean out the naysayers) this is a very disturbing and thoughtful film. In fact, I loved it. It took me awhile to think about it after the first viewing, but I was very impressed. Not only did this film break the boundaries of the dreaded "Period Piece Snore-fest", but also the standard of some films dating after 1988. When I watch films from the 80s, I normally do not see this caliber of writing and intensity. While it may have been around, most films were not ready to dive headfirst into it yet, but apparently Charles Sturridge has no fear. Instead, he gives us a biting story about social decline and satire, while all the while luring us deeper into this very depressive world. Amazing actors, an extremely powerful story, and an ending that will knock your socks off, A Handful of Dust was an unexpected, yet much needed, surprise.

Feeling like a combination of Requiem for a Dream and Angels & Insects, this period piece film offers more than just torrid love affairs and snobbery, it gives us this brief, yet powerful, glimpse into a world turned upside down by the squandering of a woman. I don't mean to sound sexist, but Sturridge does paint a picture where Kristin Scott Thomas' portrayal of Brenda does not paint a pretty picture of the perfect marriage. When Tony is left time and time again with John Andrew while Brenda is off gallivanting around London with John Beaver, our emotions are not placed within Brenda's arms, we care about Tony and his reaction if he were to ever discover the truth. Unlike other period piece films, we sympathize with the husband in this case, and ultimately open so wide to him that when the dramatic, and bizarre, ending occurs, we are left flabbergasted. It almost doesn't compute, but then you think about it and realize that Sturridge is a brilliant director using techniques well beyond his time.

Kristin Scott Thomas does a great job with the material that she is given. Her puppy-dog eyes seem to flutter and keep James Wilby's Tony at bay. I think that is what fascinated me about her character was that she portrayed this feeling of innocence, yet she was in complete control of the situation. That is why I think Rupert Graves' character was the most under-appreciated of them all. While some will see him as the villain of his film, I saw him as just a random person that happened to fall in love with a woman that reciprocated back, and happened to see the advantages of falling in love with her. He wanted to get rich quick, and this was his answer. Thomas could have stopped at any time and went back into the arms of Tony, but she chose not to, even with all of her innocence. Guinness surprised the daylights out of me with his role in this film, well, I guess he always does. Then there was Wilby, the most multi-layered character of the film. He showed us all the true love does exist, and that good husbands do as well. He did nothing wrong during the course of this film, yet somehow felt life hit him the most. The events that happen during this film continually to the ending happened directly to him, not really to anyone else. That surprised me. Here was a man that had all the money in the world, a gorgeous house, and a family, but found that luck was never on his side. Together, these three powerful plays hurdle through a tough film to give some genuine thought-provoking performances.

Then there was Sturridge who did his homework secretly in the darkness of his own basement to help bring this film to the silver screen. Most of Hollywood would have probably changed the story to bring about some final satisfaction. This is not the case with Sturridge who keeps the mood and themes of the film in constant view of us. We consider these people high society, with their hunting moments and huge houses, but the reality of it is that they face the same troubles that we, the normal person, do daily. They may have money, but they are human, and that is what Sturridge keeps with us during the course of the 118 minutes. He captures your attention with the characters, throws in some Twilight Zone scenes, and allows your imagination to work overtime. Anytime that a director pulls your mind into a film, the battle is already half won. This was my kind of film.

Overall, I was very impressed. This film broke me of my feeling that all period piece films were bad and dull, and had me drooling for more. While I know that not all will be like this, I cannot wait to see what other directors will dive headfirst into this untapped pool. The cinematography was pure 80s, the actors did their parts, and Sturridge brilliantly colored the themes and satires. I was surprised (and still shocked) by this film and cannot wait to show it to others now that is the true test of a great film.

Grade: ***** out of *****