a village affair

1994

Directed by: Moira Armstrong
Written by: Alma Cullen

What an odd little cinematic experience this is. I was expecting big things considering it does star both Kerry Fox and Jeremy Northam, but I wasn't quite expecting my bizarre reaction to it. At times I was going "awwwww", at times I was going "ugggh!" and at times I had to bury my face in a pillow because I was cackling like a mad fishwife and scaring the dog. The good news is, the times I was really laughing were actually intentionally funny, so that's at least a good start.

A Village Affair is a quaint little English drama about a young married couple (everyone kept calling them a young married couple despite having been married for ten years and having had four children) who buy a big estate house next to a small village. The money and prestige of the area belongs to Sir and Lady Unwin, whose daughter Clodagh has just returned in a flourish from New York.

The Unwins invite our young couple, Alice and Martin Jordan, over for dinner one night amongst a plethora of other village yokels, I mean locals. Clodagh and Martin hit it off famously, while Alice, still suffering a bout of post-natal depression from the birth of her last child and feeling very disconnected with the world, thinks Clodagh is rude and obnoxious.

Gradually though, Clodagh squirms her way into the affections of the Jordan clan. She makes amends with Alice for their getting off on the wrong foot and the two become fast friends. Alice begins to participate in the community and, through her growing friendship with Clodagh, begins to emerge from the shell-shocked state in which she's spent the last few years. Even Martin's overbearing mother notices the change in Alice and is dismayed.

The Unwins become Martin's biggest client (he's a lawyer), an arrangement which promises to make everyone wealthier and even more chummy - but the hitch is that Clodagh has only brought this about so that she can spend more and more time with Alice. Finally she makes the confession. She's attracted to women. And not a single person in the audience is shocked.

Martin however, despite a failed pass at Clodagh, remains oblivious. Alice realises that her feelings for Clodagh run deeper than she ever thought possible and they begin a very sweet affair (awwww!), which is constantly and consistently rudely interrupted by the filmmakers fading to black every time something gets interesting (ugggh!). But hey, it was pretty racy for 1994.

In the background we have the typical and often infuriating bit players. As with all films about small towns, the village itself is an important character in the plot, so much so that we keep being reminded by the annoying shopkeeper that it's a small village. But the incessant chattering and gossiping about each other's business seems authentic enough.

However, it wouldn't be a film if Clodagh and Alice's secret, blissful liaison were allowed to continue uninterrupted, now would it? Once Martin's wastrel brother Anthony hits town he immediately tries and fails to hit on Alice. As a result of which he concludes that Alice and Clodagh are having an affair. Seriously, I can't figure out how else he could have known. Alice turned him down, so she must be a lesbian. So Anthony turns around and dutifully informs Martin of this fact before he blows town.

It was around about this point that I realised that Alice's eldest daughter is being played by an extremely young Keira Knightley, so that distracted me no end for the rest of the film. I'm kind of glad about that though, because in the fine tradition of coming out films, the plot of the film and Alice's marriage started unravelling at a fairly equally ridiculous rate from then on.

Suddenly the village is divided into who is disgusted and who isn't. Clodagh, who had previously been a babbler and happy to the point where I thought maybe it might eventually be revealed that she was addicted to Lithium, becomes instantly suicidal. The remainder of her scenes are spent crying and throwing herself at people's feet declaring that without Alice she will die. Martin suffers an equally messy fate.

Alice, for her part, suddenly becomes all strong and enigmatic, making life-shattering decisions for absolutely no reason. For the life of me I still can't figure out why that particular ending was necessary. I love you but I need to leave. Why, exactly? I mean, I know Clodagh wasn't quite as sexy while she was blubbering about doing herself in as she was before that, but still, it did seem to me like she did get a bit shafted. I guess every viewer needs to make up their own mind on that point.

I was very glad that the joke they were leading up to throughout the entire film about the Village Wives society did eventually hit pay dirt. Watch out for that one, I was worried that I'd burst something. Finally, it might be my non-British roots showing here, but what kind of a name is Clodagh? I kept picturing this little lesbian leprechaun running around threatening to beat people up with her shillelagh. Also, one of the women had the unfortunate name of Lettice, that was pronounced "lettuce". I got confused every time. But anyway, I digress.

Like I said, it's a funny little film, but it doesn't take a single step off the beaten path. Take one coming-out-when-older storyline. Add one quaint English village (preferably that same one you've seen on every second UK TV show about a quaint little English village). Stir frequently. That'll give you the idea. There was a moment or two while skinny dipping in the pond when I thought the ladies were going to get all D.H. Lawrence on us, but to no avail.

Alas, a good rental I guess with a couple of classy moments, but on the whole not really very good.

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