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Enchanted April (1992)
Enchanted April (1992) is a film adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel, The Enchanted April. The novel was previously adapted as a Broadway play by Kane Campbell in 1925, and as an RKO Radio film in 1935. A new, Tony Award-nominated stage adaptation of the novel by Matthew Barber was presented on Broadway in 2003. In 2010, Enchanted April, A Lyrical New Musical, with music by Richard B. Evans and book and lyrics by Charles Leipart, was previewed in New York City. Elizabeth von Arnim's novel tells the story of four dissimilar women in 1920s England who leave their damp and rainy environs to go on a holiday to a secluded coastal castle in Italy. Mrs Arbuthnot and Mrs Wilkins, who belong to the same ladies' club but have never spoken, become acquainted after reading a newspaper advertisement for a 'small mediaeval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April'. They find some common ground in that both are struggling to make the best of unhappy marriages. Having decided to seek other ladies to help share expenses, they reluctantly take on the waspish, elderly Mrs Graves and the stunning, but aloof, Lady Caroline Dester.
The story opens in post-World War I London, a city where the sun seems not to exist and it is always covered by a thick layer of fog and rain. Amid this misery we meet Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson), morose women who idle at their ladies' club and try to restrain what is obviously deep depression: Lottie's husband is an uptight spendthrift (Alfred Molina), while the prim Rose is married to a writer of trashy novels with a wandering eye (Jim Broadbent, fantastic here), who is always away on book tours.
Lottie's idea is to rent a castle in Italy for a month after spying an ad in the paper ('Wisteria and Sunshine' -- who could resist?), and to stretch their buying power the pair recruit two other women, the grand dame Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), who constantly reminds us that all her friends are dead, and lesser royalty Caroline Dester (Polly Walker), though it's never clear why Lady Caroline would need to shack up with roommates instead of going it alone.
At the 30 minute mark, our quartet has reached Italy and the film trades in the rain and fog for sun, flowers, and greenery, suddenly revealing it has been in color all along. Another half hour of lounging in the grass, lounging against a tree, lounging in a hammock, or lounging in the lake follows, usually with voiced-over narrative about the splendors of the castle they're all inhabiting. A few moments of comic relief -- mainly courtesy of the daffy Lottie and the always-hysterical Lawrence -- appear; the best involves the gals attempting to eat spaghetti, obviously a foreign concept in 1920s England, yet director Mike Newell doesn't make a blatant sight gag out of it. (For what it's worth, Newell is also far too fond of the zoom lens in the film.)
The plot, what there is of one, doesn't really kick in until the final act, as Lottie's husband arrives, along with the owner who rented them the place (George Briggs) and Rose's husband, too. There's a hint of conflict as Broadbent's Frederick knows Caroline under his pseudonym -- and in fact he's only there to chase after her -- but this is resolved inside of 10 minutes, and by film's end, everyone is happy, renewed, and full of life. We are spared seeing the look on their faces when their ship pulls into port back home.
Not to be confused with A Month by the Lake (which traded Plowright for a Redgrave), Enchanted April is laconic, dreamy filmmaking that is the standard against which all movies that use the term 'sun-dappled' as a descriptive are measured. There's no conflict here, no crisis of conscience, just four ladies who are happy to take it slow for 90 minutes and, in the process, get the audience thinking the same way. I imagine this movie did wonders for the Italian tourism market. One can't help but start planning a vacation immediately after the film ends.
The DVD includes a commentary track from Newell and producer Ann Scott.