Determined to keep the family from the gutter following her father's death, the title Governess (Driver) attains a position as a governess on the windswept Isle Of Skye. She quickly becomes involved in her master's photographic work, and his personal life.
The Governess is a BBC film, a worthy costme drama set some time in the 19th century that will find itself a more natural home on the small screen. It's worth watching, though, for Minnie Driver, whose luminous performance as the governess in question struggles to save writer/director Goldbacher's film from the doldrums.
Driver is a young Jewish girl, chafing at the restrictions placed upon women, and Jews, in Victorian London. Determined to keep the family from the gutter following her father's death, she attains a position as a governess on the windswept Isle Of Skye. Her charge is initially obnoxious, and the mother (the underused Harriet Walter) pines for the bright lights and big city, but dark relief is provided by wastrel son Harry (Rhys) who soon becomes infatuated with the new governess. Meanwhile, Wilkinson locks himself away in his lab trying to develop his photography. The consequences are predictable: Driver becomes involved, first with his work, and then with Wilkinson himself.
The Governess is darker and more sensual than most corset dramas from the Merchant/Ivory mould, there is an undeniable erotic frisson to Driver and Wilkinson's relationship, and fans of the latter (last seen in The Full Monty) will not be disappointed.
But though her film is beautifully shot, Goldbacher seems uncertain of which direction to take it. There is an obvious but superficial nod to Jane Eyre, and some similarity with The French Lieutenant's Woman; but ultimately her protagonist is simply too modern a creation to be wholly convincing.
However, Driver has the memorable beauty and screen presence of a real star and it is to her that the viewer is inextricably drawn. It's encouraging that between Hollywood assignments such as Sleepers and Good Will Hunting, she can still take time off for this kind of modest, homegrown venture.
Worth watching for a beautiful and memorable Minne Driver.