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Stars: Romola Garai, Sam Neill, Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling, Lucy Russell, Jacqueline Tong, Una Stubbs

Director: Francois Ozon

French director Ozon pays homage to lavish Hollywood romances of the 1940s, but his film, though lush, colourful and expensive-looking, with appropriately sweeping music, would have been dismissed as second rate by critics of 60 years ago.

There are two main problems: the movie, set from 1905 to the early 1920s, is not made with a straight face (essential in this kind of thing), and its central character is dislikeable and even unpleasant from the start. Self-obsessed, big-headed and gauche, Angel Deverell (Garai) has no sense of humour (or even irony) and is too vacuous even to be a person you love to hate. Garai's over-the-top performance is admittedly no help, though even Bette Davis might have struggled with this.

Angel is a girl from the backstreets who lives over her mother's grocery store, but dreams of becoming a romantic novelist. In fact, she sees her whole life as a romantic novel. And, amazingly, she succeeds. A London publisher (Neill) takes a chance on her work - bodice-rippers with some shocking details - and she is soon a best-seller.

One assumes (or at least hopes) that the back-projection on her visit to London is another nod to the 1940s.

Snaring a penniless artist (Fassbender) as her husband, and having his sister (Russell), who loves her, as her companion, Angel considers people content 'to live in the brilliance of my success' and even enters one of her publication parties to the national anthem. Inevitably, hubby is dissolute and has a mistress, to whom he returns on war leave before being invalided out without one of his legs. Back home he gets legless in more ways than one, while his wife drives him mad with such dialogue as 'You may have lost your leg, but it's not as though you're dead.' Yes, even Angel's conversation seems to come from the pages of one of her books - though neither ever has the ring of conviction.

Fortunately, Neill and Rampling (as his wife) have brought their acting boots along, and give us one or two well-considered scenes amid the banality of the rest.

David Quinlan

UK/France/Belgium 2006. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Duboicolor.
120 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 27 Aug 2008