Dreaming of Joseph Lees

on October 29, 1999 by Susan Green
   The title perfectly captures the mood of this heart-rending British tale, which takes its time to detail the complex thoughts and actions of characters who ultimately create their own nightmare.
   In the otherwise serene landscape of Somerset, Eva is a virginal young woman torn apart by the wrong choices she makes in her quest to experience passion. In agreeing to live with a local pig farmer named Harry who loves her, she sidetracks her long-time secret yearning for an adventurous older cousin, Joseph Lees.
   This romantic affinity gone awry infuses the film, set in 1958, with a sense of tragic destiny worthy of Thomas Hardy.
   As Eva, the luminescent Samantha Morton moves from skittery girlish innocence to sensual completion to haggard resignation. Actor Lee Ross brings vibrancy to the equally dramatic arc of change in Harry, whose self-assured swagger hides a damaged human being.
   And Rupert Graves, playing the elusive Joseph, gives the most accomplished performance of his career as a geologist with the soul of a poet. We observe in flashbacks how he once lost a leg, a fact that resonates throughout the film in unforseen ways.
   Though only 20 herself and motherless, Eva is forced into a maternal role in three households--caring for her own two siblings at home, for the ever more needy Harry, and even for Joseph, tormented by the accident that has left him disabled.
   The strong cast adds extraordinary layers to a script by Catherine Lunstrum that is greater than the sum of its proverbial parts. Frank Finlay plays Eva`s befuddled father and Lauren Richardson her little sister Janie, a sort of precocious Greek Chorus who comments on the proceedings and ushers them along.
   Director Eric Styles, whose credits have been mostly for television, allows the performers great subtlety in a saga that could easily have become maudlin. Starring Samantha Morton, Rupert Graves, Lee Ross, Frank Finlay, Nick Woodeson and Holly Aird. Directed by Eric Styles. Written by Catherine Linstrum. Produced by Chris Milburn. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 92 min
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