Picks and Pans Review: A Handful of Dust

updated 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The husband lives in the past; his passion is his country house. The wife is bored; her passion is the city and an affair with a young social climber. An upper-class update on TV's thirtysomething? Hardly. Evelyn (Brideshead Revisited) Waugh created these characters in a 1934 novel that mocked an avaricious, unfeeling London society. Not content to tweak these social vultures, Waugh (who died in 1966) used his rapier wit to draw blood. This savagely funny movie—directed and co-written by Charles Sturridge, who did the TV Brideshead—serves Waugh admirably. Those starved for provocative, literate entertainment in a brawn-over-brains movie summer will here find an oasis. James Wilby, who played the homosexual hero of Maurice, captures the grace and wounded pride of the self-deluded husband, and Rupert Graves, Wilby's gamekeeper-lover in Maurice, is appropriately vain and vile as the wife's kept man. There are three smashing cameos by Dame Judi Dench as Graves's greedy mum, Anjelica Huston as a stylish aviatrix and Alec Guinness as a madman Wilby meets in South America. As the wife, Kristin Scott Thomas, Prince's romance in Under the Cherry Moon, is chillingly effective. You'll hiss when she cries in relief that it's her young son and not her lover who has been killed in a riding accident. Yes, these characters are hard to like, but Waugh's mastery makes them harder to forget. He mourned a lost tradition of honor, not exactly a dated theme for the 1980s. (R)

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