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Mr And Mrs Bridge Review

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The family saga of a wealthy Kansas City couple in the years spanning the two World Wars.

★★★★★

It's hard to imagine that even a documentary on the apparently harmonious marriage of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward -a union established in 1958 and still going strong -could be duller than this stodgy addition to the Merchant-Ivory menu of good taste.

Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from two novels, unappetisingly titled Mr Bridge and Mrs Bridge, it chronicles the marriage and family life of a wealthy Kansas City couple in the years spanning the two World Wars. Newman's Walter Bridge is a rigidly unyielding lawyer, preoccupied with work and oblivious to the yearnings of his loyal spinster secretary, never mind the demands of his wife and three teenage children. Woodward's India Bridge is a softly pliant housewife, filling her empty hours with useless art classes and her empty head with feminist notions borrowed from a neighbouring friend (portrayed by Blythe Danner as a suicidal kook).

The most dramatic developments in all this space involve the children: one daughter escapes to New York to become a bohemian butterfly, the other marries a blue-collar worker from the Wizard Of Oz side of Kansas, while the son only becomes a man after joinig the Army Air Corps. This is all as conventional as milk-first in a cup of tea, and just as exciting but at least Newman and Woodward work together beautifully to convey the erosion of passion in a drab marriage while Robert Sean Leonard, the sensitive young hero of Dead Poets Society, makes a neat entry in his CV as the Bridge's boy, a youth so repressed that he refuses to show any affection whatsoever for his mother.

James Ivory directs in his customary plain manner throughout, happy to let the actors do the hard work of retaining audience interest. They're up against it here, though, in a story so bloodless it can be safely recommended only to vegetarians.