The Winter Guest

on December 25, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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   This adaptation of Sharman Macdonald's play follows four pairs of people in a Scottish seaside hamlet on a winter day so cold the sea has frozen. Although a decent amount of time is lent to telling the escapades of two truant boys along the shore, two old biddies taking the bus to a funeral and two teenagers falling and then not falling into precarious love, the main focus is on a depressed woman (Emma Thompson) whose self-involved husband has died and on her mother (Thompson's real-life mom, Phyllida Law), who tries to rile her daughter into a new way of existence but more often than not simply riles her.
   Rickman has brought the cloistered stage play to vibrant life throughout the tiny town, and his work with the actors is universally superb; there is not a false note struck among the company. That said, the close-in work via dialogue between the characters and the resolute feeling of hidden symbolism hovering above the proceedings make this, like "An Awfully Big Adventure," a pleasurable sit only for moviegoers who like the microscopism of introspection. Except for a careful reticence in his tale of people surrounded by ice, Rickman makes nary a slip. Starring Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law. Directed by Alan Rickman. Written by Sharman Macdonald and Alan Rickman. Produced by Ed Pressman, Ken Lipper and Steve Clark-Hall. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated R for language and brief sensuality. Running time: 106 min. Though stateside audiences were introduced to British actor Alan Rickman via his bad-guy turn in "Die Hard," the British actor is really a serious sort, as shown by his more existential turns in "An Awfully Big Adventure" and "Michael Collins." So it's likely little surprise to arthousers that Rickman in his feature directing debut brings to the screen a work with terrific cast work and a certain haunting quality yet one that leaves audiences with fewer answers than questions, the most basic being, who is the winter guest
Tags: adaptation, Scotland, friendship, funeral, teens, romance, depression, death, family drama, Emma Thompson, Phyllida Law, Alan Rickman
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