NPR logo

Review: 'Woman In Gold,' 'Effie Gray'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/397325226/397325227" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Review: 'Woman In Gold,' 'Effie Gray'

Movie Reviews

Review: 'Woman In Gold,' 'Effie Gray'

Review: 'Woman In Gold,' 'Effie Gray'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/397325226/397325227" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR's Bob Mondello reviews two real life, art world dramas — with colors in their titles — that open this week: Woman in Gold and Effie Gray.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

April is an awkward time for the movie industry. That lull when the Oscar buzz is gone and summer blockbuster season has yet to start. And our critic Bob Mondello says that makes it the perfect time for movies that might not get noticed during the busier times of the year. He points the two based-in-reality movies that opened this week - "Woman In Gold" and "Effie Gray."

BOB MONDELLO: In the opening shots of the "Woman In Gold," the gold, which is to say real gold leaf, is being cut and brushed and applied to a canvas. Gustav Klimt is painting a young Viennese woman in 1907. And as he gilds her portrait with tiny sheets of that most precious of metals, the painting acquires a shimmering otherworldly air. It is a breathtaking work of modernist art and one that deserves an artful movie, which is not quite what it gets in "Woman In Gold," a story about the decades-long battle for ownership of what's sometimes called the Austrian Mona Lisa. From Klimt's studio the film flashes forward to 1990s California where Maria Altmann, who fled Austria during World War II, has begun working family connections to find a lawyer. When she does, she shows him a photograph of the painting.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMAN IN GOLD")

HELEN MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) Oh, here she is.

MONDELLO: In an art history book.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMAN IN GOLD")

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) My Aunt Adele - she was taken off the walls of our home by the Nazis. And since then she's been hanging in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.

RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Randol Schoenberg) And now you'd like to be reunited.

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) Wouldn't that be lovely?

REYNOLDS: (As Randol Schoenberg) Make you a rich woman, I'm sure.

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) You think that's what this is about. No, I have to do what I can to keep these memories alive.

MONDELLO: Now, if that sounds like a screenwriter setting out an agenda, it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMAN IN GOLD")

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) Because people forget, you see, especially the young.

MONDELLO: An agenda for a film that wants to be educational, part World War II refresher course, part restitution law primer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMAN IN GOLD")

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) And then, of course, there's justice.

MONDELLO: And biggest part - moral lesson. Director Simon Curtis is lucky to have Helen Mirren on hand since she can turn the film's art history speeches into something that sounds like conversation. But the screenplay doesn't do either of them any favors - forever spelling out exactly what's at stake as it flashes back and forth between the young Maria escaping wartime Austria and Mirren's older Maria confronting Austrian bureaucrats, who are as two-dimensional as the painting they're determined to hang on to. Happily, the star and her young lawyer, played by Ryan Reynolds, establish an odd couple routine that keeps things lively.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMAN IN GOLD")

MIRREN: (As Maria Altmann) You are quite rude, you're a little uncouth and you are completely disinterested in the past.

REYNOLDS: (As Randol Schoenberg) And you have an unusual talent for making me feel good about myself.

MONDELLO: Which is useful when the plot gets bogged down in legalities, and the "Woman In Gold" becomes less about art than about courtroom speeches about art.

The courts have also figured in the story of "Effie Gray," though behind the scenes, where a pair of lawsuits delayed the picture's release by more than a year. Effie, played by Dakota Fanning, was a Scottish youngster who considered herself wildly fortunate to be wooed and wed by influential art critic John Ruskin in 1848, until she got to the home he shared with his parents. Ruskin's mom, it turns out, was a bit too devoted to her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EFFIE GRAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mrs. Ruskin's just putting him into a bath. She's been aching to get her hands on him.

MONDELLO: And then came the wedding night. Effie approached their marriage bed for the first time, let her nightgown fall to the floor and watched as her new husband's eyes widened in horror - Victorian jitters perhaps. And that's where things stood for a good long time. Screenwriter and co-star Emma Thompson shows Effie doing her best to be a dutiful wife, but after five years, finally coming clean about what's going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EFFIE GRAY")

EMMA THOMPSON: (As Lady Eastlake) Let me understand you. You are telling me that you still to this day do not understand the details of the most intimate relation within marriage. You have not experienced them.

DAKOTA FANNING: (As Effie Gray) He has never so much as touched me.

MONDELLO: Thompson steers Effie to a doctor who examines her.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EFFIE GRAY")

ROBBIE COLTRANE: (As doctor) I'm perfectly thunderstruck.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) He must be mad.

MONDELLO: Then a lawyer weighs in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EFFIE GRAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As lawyer) Her madness, unfortunately is not sufficient grounds for divorce. If it were, half the marriages in London would be in jeopardy.

MONDELLO: And while you'd think the arrival of a handsome young artist in the household to paint Ruskin's portrait would move things along, even he's trying to protect Effie's virtue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "EFFIE GRAY")

TOM STURRIDGE: (As Everett Millais) John, you can't leave her on her own with me.

GREG WISE: (As John Ruskin) Yes, I realize it's a bore, Everett.

STURRIDGE: (As Everett Millais) No, not at all. I'm talking about the impropriety.

WISE: (As John Ruskin) Oh, for heaven's sake.

STURRIDGE: (As Everett Millais) John, you seem to pay no mind to the safety of your wife's reputation, to leave her entirely alone with another man, single man.

MONDELLO: Yet, that's what he does and nature does finally take its course - happily for Effie and happily for our audiences, at the attractively shot, appealingly acted and decorously eye-opening biopic "Effie Gray." I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.