Picks and Pans Review: Carrington

updated 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce

British essayist and biographer Lytton Strachey is best remembered as the author of the 1918 classic Eminent Victorians, a collection of playfully malicious biographical sketches that plucked the halos from such 19th-century angels as Florence Nightingale. And, according to Virginia Woolf, it was the homosexual Strachey who, one spring evening in 1908, uncorseted British sexual morality, at least among the influential circle of artists and writers that came to be called the Blooms-bury Group. Pointing to a stain on the dress of Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell, Strachey archly inquired, "Semen?" With that one shocking word, Woolf later wrote, "all barriers of reticence and reserve went down."

But, according to this film adapted from Michael Holroyd's biography, Strachey found his deepest, most abiding happiness outside sex, in a long platonic affair with painter Dora Carrington. They eventually set up house together, in time adding a husband for Carrington. Then all concerned would bring home their lovers.

Given these romantic permutations, Strachey's wit and the casting of Pryce and Thompson as the central couple, Carrington ought to be fascinating. But, as Queen Victoria was wont to say, we are not amused. Pryce, his face concealed by a shrubby brown beard, is fey and charming—awfully good, really—but Thompson turns out to be wrong. Her strengths as an actress are humor, intelligence and clear-eyed sanity, but not bohemian ardor. Even in her nude scenes, she seems fully clothed. (R)

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