Picks and Pans Review: Tom & Viv

updated 02/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Willem Dafoe, Miranda Richardson

T.S. Eliot's 1922 masterpiece The Waste Land could very well have been the story of his wretched marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Richardson), chronicled in this adaptation from the stage play.

Eliot (Dafoe) was born in St. Louis, but nothing in his manner suggested the "Show Me" state. "He tried hard to be more English than the English," wryly notes his future brother-in-law (Tim Dutton).

While a philosophy graduate student at Oxford under the tutelage of Bertrand Russell (Nickolas Grace), Dafoe falls in love with Richardson, a well-born, high-spirited woman who shares his ardor, believes strongly in his talent and marries him quickly, failing to mention some complications. She has what in more demure days were described as "woman's problems": an ungovernable menstrual cycle causing constant, humiliating bleeding and ungovernable mood swings causing constant, humiliating scenes at home and abroad.

As Dafoe begins to enjoy more and more literary success, becoming the darling of the Bloomsbury group, Richardson, his inspiration, helpmate and eager typist, becomes more and more a liability. She drinks too much, abuses her medications and on one occasion brandishes a knife at Virginia Woolf. Dafoe professes his undying love and devotion to Richardson, but there's a chill to him that central heating wouldn't help. Toward the end of her life, he has Richardson institutionalized against her will for more than 10 years and never visits her.

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