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Wide Sargasso Sea Review

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★★★★★

The premise of Jean Rhys' huge-selling, psychological bodice-ripper is an imagined, backwards-in-time projection through the early life of the mad old dear banged up in a distant wing of Rochester Hall in Jane Eyre.

Rhys' heroine is here transformed into Antoinette, a beautiful young plantation heiress who descends from mildly bonkers to homicidally barking. It's a descent that's really rather understandable considering she's isolated in 1840s Jamaica after her mother goes insane; the forces of Jamaican voodoo are on 24-hour call out, both for and against her; her arranged marriage sparks a savage sexual passion but scant affection; and the recently freed slaves deeply resent her and her ever-so English husband.

The book succeeds not just because every character is completely round the bend, but because each madness is dangerously intense and entirely inwardly directed - repression being the main theme. And while this was communicated to fascinating effect on the page, the film misses the point entirely. It never appears either oppressive or claustrophobic enough - the travelogue-type Caribbean location shots are sort of pretty, but they allow the characters far too much space.

For once in the movies, the pacing isn't nearly slow enough, and, with everything that made Rhys' writing so compulsive removed, what the characters actually do ends up so meaningless that it's hard to even stay interested in them, let alone feel any sympathy,