TV on DVD: A Village Affair (1994)

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Originally, director Moira Armstrong's A Village Affair was well-received during its initial run on ITV in 1995 for its stunning cinematography and strong production values.

However and now more than a decade later, this sophisticated adaptation of the 1989 novel by Joanne Trollope-- releasing on DVD this week from Acorn Media-- has gained in popularity since it boasts one of the first recorded performances of the Oscar nominated Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and Pirates of the Caribbean actress Keira Knightley (see below).

Present in the film's opening in a tiny role as one of the children of the film's emotionally conflicted main character Alice played by Sophie Ward, we glimpse the young Knightley riding along in the car with her two siblings as Alice travels forward towards what she and her husband (Nathaniel Parker) hope will be an idyllic life in the country.

Although we soon realize that despite their change of scenery, Alice has been unable to leave her depression and dissatisfaction behind her which is magnified upon her arrival with her overbearing mother-in-law taking over the home d├ęcor. Couple that with a disinterest in marital relations with her husband, and no longer feeling content in her role as a wife, mother, and painter and Alice is well overdue for an existential crisis.

Yet when the free-spirited, non-judgmental heiress Clodagh Unwin (Kerry Fox) returns home to the countryside--providing a stark contrast to the gossiping community that consists of citizens who concern themselves with offering their two cents on every given situation-- Clodagh's relationship with Alice and her husband sends tongues wagging.

Even though Alice (and indeed her husband as well) first assume that Clodagh's insistence and interest in the neighboring couple is due to a visible spark with the husband, soon we realize that there's an entirely unexpected motive as Clodagh reveals that the person who broke her heart back in the United States was a woman instead of a man. Now increasingly attracted to Alice-- Clodagh's acknowledgment of her true feelings meet with a more surprising result when they awaken an equal fiery passion in the unhappy housewife.

Overall, A Village Affair provides for a grand sudsy and daringly bold made-for-television romantic drama that's frank about its subject matter in this unrated presentation that's perhaps the equivalent of a strong PG-13 or light R in this beautifully transferred DVD that retains the original 4:3 aspect ratio and stereo sound.

And while continually we remain still confused about the internal motives and back-story of Alice (which was probably better clarified in the acclaimed novel) as the movie starts to derail from its strong first and second act in an overly melodramatic finale that doesn't conclude on an emotionally satisfying or fully realized note-- it's strengthened by the arrival of the talented Emma and Ideal Husband star Jeremy Northam (see below).

In the work, he personifies the most fascinating piece to the character ensemble puzzle of overlapping desires, regrets, secrets, and lies as the smoldering Northam lands in the community as Alice's self-centered and envious brother-in-law whose resentment of his brother has also extended to an interest in seducing Alice.

Since Northam is tuned into the raging libido within Alice and the fact that it isn't directed at him or his brother-- we know immediately as soon as he enters the film (presented as our obligatory bad boy) that he will propel the final emotional showdown unveiling the gender double standards regarding homophobia and infidelity.

Yet, while it's predicted as soon as he appears and the devastating confrontations and heartache will soon tumble down like blocks in a Jenga game in his wake-- we're still left with a sense that everything feels a bit too rushed as Clodagh becomes an irrational obsessive stereotype and a clear or satisfying resolution is never fully reached.

Again, the third act problems probably stem from the fact that Trollope's novel was condensed into a mere one hour and forty minute movie so the characters weren't as richly developed as they should have been. Likewise--although now fifteen years after its 1994 production, we've seen these sort of orientation awakening tales made to superior effect-- it's still a worthwhile effort.

Additionally it's even far more impressive when you realize that ITV and British television as a whole (similar to the amazing My Beautiful Laundrette starring Daniel Day Lewis in the '80s) believed in the most likely highly controversial project enough to put it into network television production in the early '90s whereas on this side of the pond, a mere kiss on shows like Will & Grace in the early '00s was still taboo.