A simplistic approach undermines this intriguing true story about a romantic triangle among artists in pre-WWI England. The actors do what they can to liven things up, but the writing and direction let it down, never injecting the spark of artistic invention that the project so badly needs. So while there's a certain amount of drama in what happens, the flatly cliched way it's assembled leaves us cold.
The story takes place in 1913 Cornwall, where a group of free-thinking artists live and work on the dramatic coastline. Away from the city, they also get up to all sorts of mischief, usually led by the roguish painter AJ Munnings (Cooper), who seems to be on a mission to seduce every woman in sight. His best pal is the dashing army officer Gilbert (Stevens), who is much more reticent about women. Then aspiring painter Florence (Browning) arrives, and both men are captivated by her. She's the sister of AJ's artist friend Joey (Deacon), and is flattered by the attention. But when she makes a pivotal decision she changes all of their lives.
Director Menaul and writer Smith continually smooth the edges of this story. Sure, there are plenty of naked antics, including a woman (Austen) who's happy to drop her clothing for any painter she sees, but it's shot and edited with the same coyness as a leery Carry On movie. We never get a proper sense of the anarchic nature of this community: they're all mopey stereotypes stuck in the one or two personality traits the filmmakers give them. Gilbert and Florence are particularly dull, giving Stevens and Browning little to do to catch our sympathy. By contrast, Cooper makes AJ both charismatic and cocky, and we like him even though it's clear from the script that we shouldn't.
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Too bad no one is going to pay to see the film. Most mainstream filmgoers would opt for root canal over having to sit through a 19th century social commentary piece. Take Ang Lee's Sense And Sensibility as an example. It earned seven Oscar nominations back in 1995, but only grossed $42 million in the States.
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