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DREAMING OF JOSEPH LEES(director: Eric Styles; screenwriter: Catherine Linstrum; cinematographer: Jimmy Dibling; editor: Caroline Limmer; cast: Rupert Graves (Joseph Lees), Samantha Morton (Eva), Lee Ross (Harry Flyte), Holly Aird (Maria), Miriam Margolyes (Signora Caldoni), Frank Finlay (John, Eva’s Father), Lauren Richardson (Janie, Eva’s younger sister); Runtime: 92; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 1998-UK)
“This film reminded me of a Thomas Hardy type of novel that was written by someone who didn’t have the writer’s obvious talents.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Dreaming of Joseph Lees” is a tedious romantic melodrama set in Somerset, England, in 1958. The film was shot on the rugged, isolated terrain of the Isle of Man, which added to the film’s bleakness. This drawn-out tragic love story manages to get at the characters it highlights, though what it uncovers is more obvious than startling or insightful. The somber story itself fails to be engrossing though there is one marvelous scene of Rupert Graves, the one Samantha Morton pines for, visiting Morton’s heartless father’s household for tea while her family and the boyfriend she is living with are present. It was a thoroughly uncomfortable but poignant scene, shot in mostly brown and yellow shades of coloring.

Eva (Samantha Morton) is a prim, reticent girl of twenty, who works dutifully as a clerk at the sawmill and does the household chores for her crabby father (Finlay) and watches over her precocious younger sister (Richardson). The bookish Eva fell in love with her second cousin, Joseph Lees (Graves), a geologist, when she was 14 and secretly pines for him ever since, even though she hasn’t seen him since he lost his leg in a quarry accident in Italy.

Eva learns that he will be at her cousin’s wedding; but somehow she moved in with a boy she doesn’t love, the pig farmer Harry (Ross). Harry is the opposite of her dream man– being a dim-witted, clinging type. Harry has no regard for culture or books. But Harry is obsessed with her. Eva refuses to marry him, but lives with him while secretly resenting him and dreaming of Joseph.

Having met Joseph at the wedding, Eva realizes she can’t be with Harry anymore and uses the excuse to leave him when she discovers he had a one night stand. Harry attempts suicide to woo her back, playing on her guilt and her good nature. Joseph, on the other hand, shows he’s the refined gentleman type who can warm her heart by saying nice things and turning her on to art books.

The script provides no plausible explanation for all the confusion going on in her head. One is therefore hard-pressed to figure out why she’s with Harry when Joseph is there for her. It seemed to be a no-brainer which one to choose.

Everything is so bleak and weary even the love scenes seemed exasperating as it was hard to make heads or tails about what the poor girl was so befuddled about, though befuddled she and her two lovers were. When Eva goes back to Harry, it is Joseph’s turn to cry out that he needs her. Harry will then walk the ledge of his roof for her love, threatening suicide, and Joseph will be willing to cut her all the slack she wants before she makes up her mind about whom to chose. By the time she resolved things, I was bored to death. It was obvious from the onset that Harry wasn’t for her, therefore the film lacked tension in her choice. This film reminded me of a Thomas Hardy type of novel that was written by someone who didn’t have the writer’s obvious talents. Eric Styles has come up with a story that mostly captures the stark atmosphere of the rural community, but does not put a proper perspective on the psychology of the characters.

REVIEWED ON 11/28/2000 GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”