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Anchoress Review

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Coming from a devout religious background, Christine would rather be locked up for life than marry her husband-to-be. So with the local priest's blessing he takes her away, with her sister taking her place at the altar. Christine's mother then questions her daughter's decision which is met with disapproval in the village.

★★★★★

Waving fields of wheat with a crude, wooden statue of the Virgin Mary apparently floating above them introduce this everyday story of 14th Century suffering, hypocrisy and mysticism. Devout Christine (Morse), a peasant girl in a remote English village, petitions the Bishop to allow the local priest (Eccleston) to have her sealed up forever in a tiny cell in the wall of the church. Christine's 14-year-old sister takes her place as the bride of the glowering Reeve (Bervoets), a Boris Karloff lookalike, while their herbalist mum (Wilcox) irks Eccleston by being sceptical about entombment-for-God and winds up on the nasty end of a witch hunt.

With all this family hassle, plus a heavy case of sexual frustration that leads her to obscene embroidery, Christine eventually decides that she has not made a wise career choice and starts digging. Eerily flat stretches of Belgium, filmed in black-and-white, pretend to be medieval England while Zummerset-accented Brits mingle with continentals (Bervoets had the Kiefer Sutherland role in the original Vanishing) and cringe under the weight of grinding misery.

Rather better at examining the weathered faces of its cast than in giving them lines to speak, this is very strong on textures (fraying rope, rippling water, grainy wood) if unsure with action (the witch-hunting is an especially clumsy chase), and as an examination of medieval religious lunacy it never really grips. More like a leisurely leaf through the glossy pages of an expensive art book than a real movie.

With a story line reminiscent of a Lars Von Trier film, it's perhaps a shame the Dogme director was not asked to take control as Newby loses hold of the story, unsure of its direction, instead turning his attention to keeping the scenery pretty, which admittedly he does successfully.

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