Victorian biopic featuring Dakota Fanning alongside screenwriter Emma Thompson
Delayed by two years due to legal wranglings surrounding Emma Thompson's screenplay, director Richard Laxton's period piece focuses on the early life of Euphemia 'Effie' Gray (Dakota Fanning), a young Scottish woman who marries older art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise) at the age of 19. She's promptly whisked to London, where Ruskin lives with his wealthy mother (Julie Walters) and father (David Suchet). However, Ruskin refuses to consummate the marriage and treats her with indifference, leaving an increasingly desperate Effie to find solace in a burgeoning relationship with sympathetic Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge).
Fanning is fine in a difficult role that requires her to be frustratingly passive for three quarters of the runtime, but her performance grows on you as the film progresses and she has notable chemistry with Sturridge. Perhaps to compensate for Effie's initial lack of spark, Thompson peoples her script with terrific supporting characters, nabbing one of them (Lady Eastlake) for herself in the process and essentially becoming the film's driving force, as she offers Effie valuable advice. There's also a film-stealing cameo from Robbie Coltrane as Effie's kindly doctor, who gives Ruskin the sort of telling-off that will have audiences applauding.
The main problem with Effie Gray is its early lack of momentum; in particular there's a lengthy section set in Venice that doesn't really go anywhere. It's unclear what we're supposed to take away from Effie's charged friendship with a handsome Italian would-be-seducer (Riccardo Scamarcio), because the script doesn't allow her to talk to anyone about her experience and it is never referred to again. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable, if slightly sluggish biopic that overcomes its flaws thanks to Thompson's way with dialogue, although it doesn't tug on the heartstrings as surely as you might hope.
General release from Fri 10 Oct.