Release Date: December 21st, 2005 (NYC-Paris Theater and Regal Union Square 14) by Sony Pictures Classics.
The Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Madeleine Potter, Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave,Allan Corduner, John Wood.
Directed by James Ivory.
BASIC PREMISE: During Shangai in the 1930’s, Todd (Fiennes), a diplomat, develops a relationship with Sofia (Richardson), a Russian countess.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: The White Countess has beautiful set and costume design with gorgeous cinematography. However, the plot fails to engage you because it’s simply too thin and lacking in conflict. As expected, Ralph Fiennes gives a great performance as Todd, a diplomat who also happens to be blind. Likewise, Natasha Richardson is also convincing, especially with her Slavic accent. Just by feeling Sofia’s face, Todd can immediately sense her beauty. Throughout the first and second acts, he gets to know her while opening “The White Countess”, a club where she can spread her charm. Todd and Sofia do have chemistry together, but nothing really happens that’s interesting until the late in the second act. At that point, there’s the physical threat of the Japanese taking over Shangai. His Japanese friend Mr.Matsuda (Sanada) tries to warn him about the imminent danger while Todd prays that his club will be saved during the invasion. The third act seems like a completely different movie as the action kicks when Sofia must flee town by ship. Olga (Vanessa Redgrave) and Aunt Sara (Lynn Redgrave) have a dark surprise for Sofia regarding their escape procedure and Katya (Potter)Sofia’s daughter. Given the running time of two hours and eighteen minutes, you would hope that there’s some room for wit or brief humor to refresh you a little bit, but think again. The script feels mostly dry, as if it were read from your high school history book.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: The third act does have a few moving moments as Sofia desperately tries to escape from Shangai without being separated from her daughter. However, up until the third act, there’s not enough going on to be emotionally invested in any of the characters.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Thin plot with very little conflict.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 4
THE BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful costume and set design, as well as superb performances by Fiennes and Richardson. However, its overly-thin plot, without enough conflict and dramatic tension, fails to hold your interest.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: VHS/DVD
The "W" Menu