DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
MY LIFE SO FAR (director: Hugh Hudson; screenwriters: Simon Donald/based on the book "Son of Adam" by Denis Forman; cinematographer: Bernard Lutic; editor: Scott Thomas; cast: Colin Firth (Edward), Rosemary Harris (Gamma), Irene Jacob (Heloise), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Moira), Malcolm McDowell (Uncle Morris Macintosh), Robert Norman (Fraser), Tcheky Karyo (Gabriel Chenoux), Kelly MacDonald (Elspeth); Runtime: 98; Miramax Films; 1999)

 
"An appealing view of life on a Scottish estate in 1927."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An appealing view of life on a Scottish estate in 1927 as seen through the eyes of a playful and innocent 10-year-old, Fraser (Robert Norman). It is actually the nostalgic autobiography of British TV executive Sir Denis Forman.

My Life So Far is cute, it has an angelic glow, and it captures the gorgeous scenery of the Argyll countryside and the mannerisms of the eccentric well-to-do Pettigrew family. All the performances are first-rate, its storytelling and sense of drama are done in a classy manner; but, it is a film that I quickly forgot as soon as I left the theater, though I did have a smile on my face. And I say the following without any malice intended: this is Masterpiece Theater stuff, appropriately filmed for the mature audience that should appreciate such a blithe period piece.

Into the serene family life in the country comes a little anguish. The handsome and invigorating father, Edward Pettigrew (Firth), is seen rescuing the five year old Fraser who has crawled out on the ledge of the roof and is communicating with him dog style. After rescuing him he hoists his lively son proudly on his shoulders. A pretty picture is painted of all the loyal servants and the many neighbors watching this rescue, along with his adoring wife Moira (Mastrantonio) and Moira's aging and kindly widowed mother, who goes by the name of Gamma (Harris). She is the matriarch of the family and owns the Kiloran House, where this adventure takes place.

Returning from his travels and other business interests, as he does once or twice a year, is Gamma's eldest child and the probable heir to the family estate, the worldly Morris Macintosh (Malcolm McDowell). Apparently there is a strained but so far polite relationship between him and his brother-in-law, Edward. They have different ideas on how to manage the estate. Edward is the pious type relating everything to God that he likes, but to what he doesn't like he attributes to the work of the Devil. Beethoven relates to God and his music is the sound of God talking in his sleep, while Jazz relates to the Devil's music. Edward is also ridiculed by the elegant millionaire, Morris, for being childlike and wasting his time with foolish inventions that fail to work or make money. He has a factory on the estate which provides him with a marginal income, where he is making toiletry items out of sphagnum moss. Edward proudly states this is the only factory of its kind in Europe. But his main obsession is with aviation. When a dapper French pilot (Tcheky Karyo) is forced to land his plane on Kiloran estate, a friendship grows between them. Later on the pilot will return to court Fraser's older sister, Elspeth (MacDonald), who was swept off her feet by the gallant flyer.

The much older Morris (he must be in his fifties) also announces to the surprise of the family that his fiancée is a 24-year-old French amateur cellist, the very attractive Heloise (Irene Jacob), who will soon arrive on the estate grounds and they will get married. Upon her arrival Edward is immediately taken with her beauty and her playing of Beethoven, as everyone else on the estate is. Edward foolishly tries to make a pass at her and talk her out of the marriage, but fails miserably in his efforts. Instead, Heloise develops a special fondness in her heart for Fraser, which makes his father even more jealous.

The comedy comes easily in this lush story, as there are the old film standby gags for comedy: featuring a friendly dog and an adorable kid.

The comedy also picks up when Fraser discovers in the attic his late grandfather's books with pictures of naked women and reads about sexual matters, such as prostitution and lesbianism, from a "Book of Ethics." He has no comprehension what it is about but amusingly tosses these items out verbatim from what he read during the course of a dinner conversation, to the chagrin and then laughter of the house guests.

The major tragedy occurs when Gamma falls into the icy water during a skating celebration and dies of pneumonia, leaving everyone uncertain about their fate as she was the glue that held the family together. It is of great concern to Edward whom she will leave the house to because if she leaves it to Morris, he might be asked to leave or have to put up with Morris' wishes on how to run the large estate.

The darkest character in the film is the Bible toting Edward. He is a most perplexing character, wavering between moods of being absolutely charming to those of being repugnant. He loves Fraser and gives his son all the love he can, but sometimes he drifts off with his own selfish aims and refuses to think about anyone else. It is when he acts as a prude, referring to a literal translation of the Bible as his answer to how to live his life, that he becomes unbearable to everyone but Fraser and Moira.

Fraser, unaware of what the conflicts between the brothers-in-laws really means, takes all these happenings in stride without batting an eye, endowed with the childlike innocence that makes everyone feel comfortable in his presence. His coming-of-age education will also include his viewing of a spat between his mother and father. 

This year in the life of Fraser left their indelible mark on his memory even though there was nothing spectacular But he learned that he feels sexually aroused when bathed by the maid and his sexual curiosity was somewhat satisfied by all the questions he asks his father. It's an uplifting, old-fashioned story that satisfied the gentler side of me. It should suit, even more than it does me, those who like their art to be "nice and mild."

REVIEWED ON 10/22/99   GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: " Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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