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Sommersby Review

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A man returns from the Civil War considerably changed - but is he who he says he is?

★★★★★

Having served notice of his considerable storytelling skills with 1989's underrated Queen Of Hearts, British director Jon Amiel here makes the huge jump into the Hollywood first division with this major studio production bringing together two of the very biggest stars in the firmament. And, in the main, it is a jump he successfully carries off.

An American remake and update of Daniel Vigne's 1982 French classic The Return Of Martin Guerre, this is the tale of Jack Sommersby (Gere), a bad old Southern boy who returns from the Civil War apparently reconstructed, reformed and, when it comes to the boudoir, considerably revitalised. Wife Laurel (Foster) suspects that things may not be quite what they seem, but this guy's a lot more fun than the previous version and her lips remain firmly sealed, as do those of most of the other village folk. Unfortunately, the chief rival for Mrs. Sommersby's affections (Pullman) doesn't quite see it that way, kicking off a gradual process that will ultimately seal the fate of the two key players.

A genuinely romantic piece of work, Sommersby features two class performances from Gere and Foster, both managing to somehow convey the depth of their mutual longing without ever having to hang from the chandeliers to prove it. Gere, in particular, demonstrates a maturity and confident sense of what it is about him that works best, while Foster, through her overt primness, conjures up an effective sense of the barely suppressed passions of the period.

The key issues of identity, deception and betrayal, however, are never really tackled head-on by Amiel or his leads, with too many clues strewn along the way, and undue emphasis placed upon the development of the pleasantly diverting love affair that should, in reality, be kept taut and constantly challenged by the threat of potential exposure. Still, it all looks very nice in a 19th century sweet Virginia kind of way, and fans of Gere and Foster will find no shortage of moments to enjoy. Fans of The Return Of Martin Guerre, rightly fearing the liberal application of Hollywood soft soap, are best advised to rewind the original and keep their pleasant memories intact.

A romantic drama which has lost some of the intended edge thanks to the Hollywood treatment.