||Cinema - The White
In May last year, during the making of The White Countess, Ismail
Merchant died in London after an operation on his stomach. And
so the film became the last in a long line of co-productions
from Merchant and his (life and business) partner James Ivory.
The couple met at a screening of Ivory’s film The Sword
and the Flute in 1960. Within a year they had set up a company
together, within three they had put out their first movie The
Householder, which like so many, was set in Merchant’s
homeland, India. It wasn’t until 1979, when they adapted
the Henry James novel The Bostonians, that they found their
most successful stock-in-trade: period movie adaptations of
19th century novels. Subsequently, films like A Room with a
View, Maurice and Howard’s End established them as A-list
Hollywood icons. Their adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s
novel The Remains of the Day was nominated eight times in the
The White Countess is based on a screenplay by Ishiguro. It
stars Ralph Fiennes as a blind diplomat who falls in love with
Natasha Richardson’s fallen-on-hard-times Russian countess.
It is set in 1930’s Shanghai, prior to the Japanese invasion
of China. As usual it is sumptuously shot, and cleverly acted.
It is unlikely, however, to be remembered in years to come as
anything but the last Merchant-Ivory co-production. Critics
seem to be split in their appraisal. Positive reviews mention
the film’s slow, meditative pace. Village Voice calls
it ‘irredeemably dull’.
Russian roulette: Ralph Fiennes forms
a dangerous liason with the