EFFIE GRAY – Review by Susan Granger

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effiegraysmallSince proper Victorian society would not tolerate homosexuality or divorce, it was truly scandalous when young Euphemia “Effie” Gray left her husband, influential art critic John Ruskin, after a loveless six-year marriage for Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. Teenage Effie’s (Dakota Fanning) story begins in Scotland in 1848, when she marries Ruskin (John Wise). Arriving in London, Effie discovers to her dismay that they’re to live with his prim, domineering parents (Julie Walters, David Suchet). Worse yet, after viewing lovely Effie’s naked body, Ruskin coldly refuses to consummate their marriage. Read om…

At a Royal Academy of Arts dinner, Ruskin supports the new Pre-Raphaelite movement, convincing the President of the Academy, Sir Charles Eastlake (James Fox), to allow young artists, like John Millais (Tom Sturridge), to exhibit there.

That same night, rejected Effie is befriended by Eastlake’s outspoken wife, Elizabeth (Emma Thompson), who recognizes Effie’s naïveté and angst, eventually serving as her confidante.

As time goes by, the Ruskins travel to picturesque Venice, as chaste Effie rebuffs an ardent Italian; then to rain-soaked, rural Scotland, where Millais paints Ruskin’s portrait. That sexually suppressed, still-virginal Effie and sympathetic Millais will wind up together seems inevitable.

(Although it’s not depicted on-screen, Effie and Millais married and had eight children.)

Written by Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) and directed by Richard Laxton (BBC’s “Burton and Taylor”), it’s a dreary historical costume drama that never probes into repressed Ruskin’s obviously dysfunctional sexuality, except to indicate that he masturbates in their marital bed.

John Wise (Emma Thompson’s real-life husband) is far too old to play Ruskin, who was only nine years older than Effie. Middle-aged Wise is 23 years older than still child-like Dakota Fanning, who adopts an upper-class British accent although Effie reportedly spoke with a Scottish brogue.

Adding to the intrigue, the film’s release was delayed by lawsuits, alleging that the script was plagiarized from earlier dramatizations of the same story; eventually, Thompson won in court.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Effie Gay” is a stultifying 6. It’s far too timid and tasteful for its own good.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.