A Victorian entemologist marries his patron's daughter, then engages in an affair.
With a full quota of close-to-the-knuckle explicitness in the nudity department - including in one pivotal scene with one male cast member's, well, member, standing to attention in close-up - this adaptation of A.S. Byatt's novel only proves that one can get away with anything provided it's labelled "art". It's one of the sole points of interest in a film that despite its impressive on screen and off credentials, is ultimately a huge disappointment.
Returning from the Amazon jungle, lower-class entomologist William (Rylance) ups his status by wooing the upper-crust Eugenia (Kensit) in a cloud of creepy-crawlies. About three seconds later, his seemingly innocent wife is flinging her corsets aside and popping out babies left, right and centre. However, when she shuts William out of her life, leaving him to forge a relationship with her dour cousin Matty (Scott-Thomas), it becomes apparent that sinister goings-on are afoot.
Unfortunately, any sense of menace is quashed in favour of Wildlife On One-style insect travelogues, soft-focus sex more likely to invoke titters than titillation, and an appalling lack of attention to detail. Meanwhile, the infinitely guessable shock ending is wasted, leaving genuine confrontation simmering on the back burner and causing the whole enterprise to fall pancake-flat.
Occasionally, a glimpse of promise shines through, largely due to the magnificent costumes and a standout performance from Scott-Thomas, boldly cast against type, providing an antidote to the stilted dramatics on offer.
This is a colossally yawnsome experience likely to collapse under the weight of more palatable seasonal fare.