FELICIA’S JOURNEY(director/writer: Atom Egoyan; screenwriter: based on the novel by William Trevor; cinematographer: Paul Sarossy; editor: Susan Shipton; cast: Elaine Cassidy (Felicia), Bob Hoskins (Joseph Ambrose Hilditch), Claire Benedict (Miss Calligary), Brid Brennan (Mrs. Lysaght), Arsinee Khanjian (Gala), Peter McDonald (Johnny Lysaght), Gerard McSorley (Felicia’s Father), Sheila Reed (Iris), Danny Turner (Young Hilditch); Runtime: 116; Artisan; 1999-Can.)
“What fails this otherwise competent and worthwhile production, is that everything falls too easily into psychological place by the film’s end.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Inspired by the 1994 novel by William Trevor this is a film about a serial killer. It is excellently crafted and has more to offer than the usual serial killer film. It’s a character study of a warped man smothered by his mother’s overbearing presence, who is more interested in her career than him. He is now a respected member of his community, but is a very lonely man.
The innovative Canadian filmmaker of Armenian descent, Atom Egoyan, who has in the past covered such familiar themes, revisits the themes of betrayal, familial ills, religious conflicts, sexual secrets, videotapes, and uncertain identities.
A naive, unfortunate, young Irish girl, leaves her home in lush County Cork to come to polluted industrial Birmingham, England, in search of her boyfriend who supposedly came here seeking work. Her main reason for coming is to tell him that he made her pregnant and she wants the baby.
Felicia (Cassidy) is desperate, after hearing from her embittered Irish nationalist widowed father rant on that her boyfriend Johnny is a traitor to Ireland. He lied by not telling her he joined the British Army and she foolishly believes that her Johnny is working in the industrial Midland’s of England, in a lawnmower factory. She gets some money from her dying great-grandmother to make the journey in search of him, after receiving no letters and being rebuffed by Johnny’s mother .
The bedraggled Felicia can’t find Johnny in Birmingham, but she finds Joseph Ambrose Hilditch (Hoskins) while asking for directions. The next day he gives her a lift to a place where he says a lot of Irish lads work. He is a gourmet catering manager in a factory, who forms this odd relationship with this young girl based on his need to talk with someone outside of work.
While Felicia looks for Johnny in the factory, he goes through her backpack and steals her money. When he is driving Felicia there are flashbacks of other girls he befriended and rode in the same car and with whom he recorded their conversations. It is eerily made clear that Hilditch acts to befriend these helpless prostitutes or runaway girls and secretly videotapes them. It is implied that he kills them when they don’t need him anymore and try to leave.
The film is adept at using flashbacks from both Felicia’s and Hilditch’s dysfunctional childhoods to show how innocent and angelic she is and how troubled and confused he is, and how she comes from a poor background raised without a mother and he from a wealthy family raised by a mother who used him to promote her cooking show. Hilditch lives alone in the large clapboard house he inherited from his mother and surrounds himself with 1950s memorabilia including Mix Masters; and, listens to syrupy Mantovani music and artless ballads like “My Special Angel,” which are on LP’s. He watches videos in his kitchen while he is cooking the same food he sees on the videotapes. The videos are of his sophisticated French mother Gala who was a famous TV host of a cooking show in the 1950s. The videos also show him performing with her, appearing as a fat and awkward child. He is now a stout, balding man, in his fifties, who is friendly and respected at his workplace as a man with impeccable culinary taste.
After leaving Hilditch, Felicia is approached by a Jamaican Christian missionary (Claire Benedict), who has big shiny teeth like a wolf. She talks Felicia into staying at their organization’s shelter. Felicia notices her money is missing, and the missionary people react negatively to her saying that they were the thieves. Left with no other choice she goes back to Hilditch’s house, and we see how the two troubled souls relate to each other in a heartbreaking way.
The crux of the film centers around Felicia’s reactions from the stern rejection from her father and Johnny’s mother, and of being ignored by Johnny. The missionary, who is in the business of saving souls, is shown to be full of words that are robotic-ally recited by missing the spirit of their mission. When the mission leader has a chance to save the helpless Felicia, she doesn’t even try. Curiously the only warmth and help Felicia receives is from Hilditch, and he is the one who wants to kill her.
Elaine Cassidy captures the character’s youthful naivety and quiet determination to get on with her life despite the upheavals. She is seen as too inexperienced and vulnerable for all the evil there is in the world. She has come to England as an innocent, but after her abortion she has lost even that angelic glow.
Bob Hoskins performance is brilliant, even if he chews the scenery; nevertheless, he is engaging as a manipulative predator and someone who could be both charming and frightening. His performance has the proper mixture of terror for what he has become and sympathy for what he hasn’t become.
What fails this otherwise competent and worthwhile production, is that everything falls too easily into psychological place by the film’s end. We are led to believe we understand too much about this serial killer and that he can be redeemed, but the reality is that we understand too little despite the appropriate effort that is made to understand him. This serial killer film falls below the achievements of M and Peeping Tom, as it falls into the range of films that miss their mark but are still enriching.
REVIEWED ON 5/27/2000 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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