Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)

Directed by Charles Sturridge
Written by Tim Sullivan, Derek Granger & Charles Sturridge

E.M. Forster may not be a familiar name to some, but to others he is a magnificent author who has written such classics as Howard’s End, A Room with a View, A Passage to India and this lesser known tale which was also adapted into a film. Where Angels Fear to Tread was the first novel to be published by E.M. Forster, with the title being taken from an Alexander Pope work. Many stars aligned to bring this adaptation to life, including Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter and Judy Davis.

The film takes place during the Edwardian era of Britain and follows the antics of a rich widow (Mirren). What makes her eccentric is her travels. Upon the urging of a friend, Lilia travels to beautiful Italy. What wasn’t in the plan was her falling in love with, and marrying, a much younger and poorer Italian dentist named Gino (Giovanni Guidelli). When the news arrives back in Britain, there is outrage and Phillip (Rupert Graves) is sent to investigate along with Caroline (Bonham Carter). When they see there is nothing for them to do, they return to England empty handed, but they are soon called to return when Lilia dies while giving birth. This time the sour sister of Phillip, Harriet (Davis), joins on the journey. We soon see the massive cultural differences that threaten to unsettle this happy rich family from England. And meanwhile Gino is caught in the middle as the future of his child remains in question, at least to the foreigners.

The film really is quite typical and does nothing outstanding. But on the flipside it doesn’t really do anything terrible. Where Angels Fear to Tread is your run of the mill, unremarkable, yet strangely solid, English period piece. It is at times boring and at times fun and interesting, but by the end of it, you realize you have sat through the duration of the film and can’t complain too awful much. This sensation seems to be fueled both by the good story from Forster as well as the performances from an accomplished cast.

Helen Mirren is only in the film for a short time, but her ability to embody the disconnect between the English family and the poor Italian dentist is good. Judy Davis seems to have the bitter, sour, unlikable sister down pat and manages to make the quasi-villain character at least somewhat empathetic. And Bonham Carter, as is always the case when she is not playing the psychopath anyway, is nothing short of solid as a rock as the friend of the family who has a unique perspective on the whole sitaution. Who I most liked watching, however, was Rupert Graves as Phillip, the somewhat befuddled brother who can’t seem to catch a break in life, always doing the deeds of others and witnessing the wonders of life happening to everyone else but himself. His performance is funny and heartbreaking all the same.

Where Angels Fear to Tread is not something I would have sought out on my own nor is it something I will likely seek out on my own in the future, but for a film that is set up to examine the cultural differences of two nationalities and classes of people, it does its job and does so in mildly entertaining fashion. Not a complete waste, but also not something I feel comfortable making a recommendation of to anyone in particular.

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