Dreaming of Joseph Lees

(Eric Styles, UK/USA, 1999)


Set in the 1950s, Dreaming of Joseph Lees is the portrait of a young, romantic dreamer, Eva (Samantha Morton). Bucking against the forces of habit and tradition that shape her sleepy, Somerset community, Eva fixes her yearnings onto art and the figure of Joseph (Rupert Graves) – a handsome chap who is far away and seriously injured.

Meanwhile, Eva is courted by Harry (Lee Ross), a pig farmer whose earthiness and good humour appeals to her more immediate and less dreamy needs. Unconventionally, they share a house, deferring marriage. Secretly, Eva is having a bet each way, hoping that Joseph will one day return. When he does, the trouble starts.

Director Eric Styles and writer Catherine Linstrum have previously worked on such BBC dramas as Love in the House of the Lord. Their feature debut is pitched somewhere between the stately BBC style, Michael Winterbottom’s Jude (1996) and Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady (1996). Contemplative landscape views and lilting music by Zbigniew Preisner alternate with bursts of passionate melodrama.

It is a watchable but unmemorable variation on familiar themes and situations. The cleverest aspect of its structure is the way in which Harry’s early signs of emotional weakness and vulnerability are kept from Eva’s view – preparing us, but not her, for the catastrophes to come.

The actors are captivating, especially Lauren Richardson as Janie, Eva’s little sister, always watching and absorbing these adult games.

Unfortunately, the film is ruined in its last minutes by a dreadful Open Ending that refuses to resolve anything, for fear of seeming either old-fashioned or politically incorrect.

MORE Styles: Tempo

© Adrian Martin March 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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