England, The late 50s. Max (Bonneville) brings his wife Stella (Richardson) and son to live in the grounds of the asylum hes just been made deputy superintendent of. But boredom and domestic alienation spur Stella to embark on a dangerous affair with an
Young Adam director David MacKenzie adapts another literary tale of forbidden passion in 1950s Britain, this time focusing on the middle classes with rather more restrained results. In fact there’s more than a touch of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a story that at once cautions and titillates, eroticising the torrid affair between housewife and handyman before dwelling on its consequences.
Richardson, who claims she was born for the role, has a strong screen presence as the doleful wife waiting to be awakened, while Ian McKellen offers welcome dark humour in the form of quietly devious Dr Cleave, who may or may not be the architect of her downfall (no doubt we also have screenwriter Patrick Marber, who penned Closer, to thank for the bitter laughs).
The story by acclaimed author Patrick McGrath (whose novel Spider was adapted by David Cronenberg back in 2002) isn’t short on drama, but there’s an emotional distance from the characters which doesn’t draw the audience into their heartbreak. Instead, it invites us to watch the psychological intrigues unfold with the detached curiosity of Dr Cleave. Much like Young Adam, Asylum keeps its characters at arm’s length while maintaining an infectious fascination with their often disastrous actions, rendering this more intellectually than emotionally involving.
It may not be daring as Young Adam, but Asylum is a straightforward, well-performed adaptation of an absorbing melodrama.