DREAMING OF JOSEPH LEESR
In Dreaming of Joseph Lees, Samantha Morton (Under the Skin) plays Eva, a plain-looking British student living with relatives in rural 1950s England. Though Eva is courted by a fellow classmate, the mundane Harry (Lee Ross), she frequently fantasizes about another man, Joseph Lees (Rupert Graves), a dashing archeologist from her hometown who has recently lost his leg on an expedition in Italy.
While Joseph recuperates in a hospital, Eva consents to live with Harry, although cohabitation is frowned upon in the community. Still, Eva holds out hope to one day wed Joseph. When Eva and Joseph are finally reunited, they begin an affair, which sets Harry off on a course of pathetic self-destruction. Samantha must then choose between her feelings of loyalty towards Harry and her feelings of desire for Joseph.
Dreaming of Joseph Lees takes one of the oldest of story forms-the love triangle-and adds a modern touch in the heroine's obsessive and transgressive behavior. But this first film for both director Eric Styles and screenwriter Catherine Linstrum needs more courage in the storytelling itself.
For a film about romantic obsession, Joseph Lees barely delves into the heroine's psychological state, leaving viewers clueless as to Eva's motives, particularly her decision to move in with Harry. Eva's fixation on Joseph is just as unclear, since Graves, though much more handsome than Ross, is a much less dynamic actor (here, casting is the problem). Further, the film never develops the morbid Freudian interest Eva seems to have in a man who is missing his leg, nor does it underscore the parallel irony of both men losing the same limb, after Harry cuts his off in the climax.
Dreaming of Joseph Lees seems inspired by Fran‡ois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H., yet lacks its romantic intensity. Even David Lean's Ryan's Daughter contained greater passion and, yes, more feminist spirit, by shining a more understanding light upon its heroine's transgressions against the morality of a similar kind of backward community. Thus, Joseph Lees better resembles Hollywood films like Come and Get It (also with a lumber industry setting) and Smilin' Through (in which a leg injury plays a role). These two old chestnuts represent conventional 'choice' melodramas, in which the heroine flits between two lovers as in a romance novel. Joseph Lees, however, disappoints by making Eva's final decision unnecessarily ambiguous (especially after the viewer's patient wait to find out which man she will choose).
Not surprisingly, Styles' direction is too clichd, particularly whenever it emphasizes key dramatic moments through slow motion (e.g., the aforementioned climax). Styles also lays on Zbigniew Preisner's sappy score throughout every scene. Paradoxically, Styles restrains from using dream sequences, but this is one film where such a convention might have been welcome, to better understand the characters' inner lives.
On the credit side, Morton does all she can with her role and the production quality is high-grade 'Masterpiece Theatre.' Though not as richly detailed as recent film adaptations of British classics, Dreaming of Joseph Lees captures the look of a mid-1950s English countryside. Appropriately glum and ordinary, the settings and clothing and hairstyles seem authentic.