The year is 1932 and Tony and Brenda Last (James Wilby and Kristin Scott Thomas), a devoted and attractive couple with one son, John Andrew, appear to live an idyllic life in the huge Victorian Gothic house which is the sy... more »mbol of Tony's family pride. One weekend they inadvertently play host to John Beaver (Rupert Graves), an idle young socialite. It is the chance arrival of this penniless scrounger which irrevocably shatters the gentle balance of their lives.« less
Charlotte E. from LITTLE ROCK, AR Reviewed on 5/21/2010...
This is not your usual "and they all lived happily ever after" movie. It is typical English style with a good development of a plot, and the acting is quite good. Not for children due to the subject of adultery. I don't expect to see it again, but good for a nights entertainment! English language is slightly hard to "hear".
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
Brilliantly acted and visually stunning
email@example.com | Lisboa, Portugal | 12/21/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Evelyn Waugh's novel gets more than your average "period piece" treatment here. Art direction is a plus, as are costumes, set design, and score. But there's also a consistent (and coherent) effort to convey the sense of inevitability present in the novel. Thanks to superb acting (particularly by James Wilby and Kristin Scott-Thomas) that effort pays off. You feel the main cahracters spiralling down - but there seems to be no way to guess their end. Rupert Graves is also very good, but Judi Dench and Alec Guiness in comparatively smaller roles give us performances that are as luminous as ever. Intriguing score. Why not 5 stars? Tempo. Pace. A few minuts less wouldn't hurt it - they're not essential to plot or characterization, they just let the camera take in the beautiful sets languidly... Maybe for some people that would be deserving of a 5th star. Maybe. I still think it's a beautiful music, the acting is superior and it's something of an unknown gem."
A. Woodley | New Zealand | 12/31/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a brilliant adaptation of Waugh's sharply satirical novel "A Handful of Dust" (also worth reading). The pace is beautiful and I thought the casting was perfect. Kristin Scott Thomas is remote and succinct as Lady Brenda, James Wilby as her husband Tony is restrained panic. Giving Rupert Graves the part of near-sociopathic Mr Beaver was a stroke of genius. He is good-looking without being overly unctuous. The story is set in England of the 1930's. Tony and Lady Brenda, and upper class couple who live mostly in the country, have been married for seven years when Tony invites a man from his club to come and stay, Mr Beaver. Brenda gets an odd hankering for their guest, even though Mr Beaver proves himself to have feet of clay over and over again - but then so does she. There is a slow decline in Tony and Brenda's relationship, the deterioration filtering through layers of genteel gossip and impeccably good manners. The ending has a marvellous twist to it also. The script retains some of the sharpness of the Waughs novel, and much of the humour."
If "Requiem for a Dream" were a period peice film ...
A. Gyurisin | Wet, Wild, Wonderful Virginia | 01/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I will admit, I was not a fan of this film during the first fifteen minutes when it nearly went into the "Period Film Sleeping Bag" category, but after you get through this first hump (which is to wean out the naysayers) this is a very disturbing and thoughtful film. In fact, I loved it. It took me awhile to think about it after the first viewing, but I was very impressed. Not only did this film break the boundaries of the dreaded "Period Piece Snore-fest", but also the standard of some films dating after 1988. When I watch films from the 80s, I normally do not see this caliber of writing and intensity. While it may have been around, most films were not ready to dive headfirst into it yet, but apparently Charles Sturridge has no fear. Instead, he gives us a biting story about social decline and satire, while all the while luring us deeper into this very depressive world. Amazing actors, an extremely powerful story, and an ending that will knock your socks off, A Handful of Dust was an unexpected, yet much needed, surprise.
Feeling like a combination of Requiem for a Dream and Angels & Insects, this period piece film offers more than just torrid love affairs and snobbery, it gives us this brief, yet powerful, glimpse into a world turned upside down by the squandering of a woman. I don't mean to sound sexist, but Sturridge does paint a picture where Kristin Scott Thomas' portrayal of Brenda does not paint a pretty picture of the perfect marriage. When Tony is left time and time again with John Andrew while Brenda is off gallivanting around London with John Beaver, our emotions are not placed within Brenda's arms, we care about Tony and his reaction if he were to ever discover the truth. Unlike other period piece films, we sympathize with the husband in this case, and ultimately open so wide to him that when the dramatic, and bizarre, ending occurs, we are left flabbergasted. It almost doesn't compute, but then you think about it and realize that Sturridge is a brilliant director using techniques well beyond his time.
Kristin Scott Thomas does a great job with the material that she is given. Her puppy-dog eyes seem to flutter and keep James Wilby's Tony at bay. I think that is what fascinated me about her character was that she portrayed this feeling of innocence, yet she was in complete control of the situation. That is why I think Rupert Graves' character was the most underappreciated of them all. While some will see him as the villain of his film, I saw him as just a random person that happened to fall in love with a woman that reciprocated back, and happened to see the advantages of falling in love with her. He wanted to get rich quick, and this was his answer. Thomas could have stopped at any time and went back into the arms of Tony, but she chose not to, even with all of her innocence. Guinness surprised the daylights out of me with his role in this film, well, I guess he always does. Then there was Wilby, the most multi-layered character of the film. He showed us all the true love does exist, and that good husbands do as well. He did nothing wrong during the course of this film, yet somehow felt life hit him the most. The events that happen during this film continually to the ending happened directly to him, not really to anyone else. That surprised me. Here was a man that had all the money in the world, a gorgeous house, and a family, but found that luck was never on his side. Together, these three powerful plays hurdle through a tough film to give some genuine thought-provoking performances.
Then there was Sturridge who did his homework secretly in the darkness of his own basement to help bring this film to the silver screen. Most of Hollywood would have probably changed the story to bring about some final satisfaction. This is not the case with Sturridge who keeps the mood and themes of the film in constant view of us. We consider these people high society, with their hunting moments and huge houses, but the reality of it is that they face the same troubles that we, the normal person, do daily. They may have money, but they are human, and that is what Sturridge keeps with us during the course of the 118 minutes. He captures your attention with the characters, throws in some Twilight Zone scenes, and allows your imagination to work overtime. Anytime that a director pulls your mind into a film, the battle is already half won. This was my kind of film.
Overall, I was very impressed. This film broke me of my feeling that all period piece films were bad and dull, and had me drooling for more. While I know that not all will be like this, I cannot wait to see what other directors will dive headfirst into this untapped pool. The cinematography was pure 80s, the actors did their parts, and Sturridge brilliantly colored the themes and satires. I was surprised (and still shocked) by this film and cannot wait to show it to others ... now that is the true test of a great film.
Grade: ***** out of *****"
Unusually Strong Cast for a TV Movie
Stephanie DePue | Carolina Beach, NC USA | 08/26/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
""A Handful of Dust," (1988), based on Evelyn Waugh's famous novel by the same name, a jazz-age satire, was made by London Weekend Television, which invested in an unusually strong cast for a television movie. Perhaps as a result of this, the film received theatrical distribution, by Miramax, in the United States.
The film stars James Wilby as Tony Last, so involved in trying to live a nineteenth century lifestyle, and keep his estate Hettam afloat, that he fatally fails to notice his wife Brenda (Kristin Scott Thomas) is bored silly. Rupert Graves appears as John Beaver, (he's what they used to call a bounder); Brenda mistakenly turns to him for solace and fun. (And, of course, by doing so, she gives London's bored silly smart set something to gossip about.) Dame Judi Dench plays Mrs. Beaver, John's opportunistic, shop-owning mother. Anjelica Huston appears as the helpful Mrs. Rattery; Stephen Fry as Brenda's callous brother. Alec Guinness turns in a bravura performance as Mr. Todd, a man you don't want ever to meet. But it can truthfully be said that each of the actors makes the most of his/her part.
The movie is beautifully filmed on location, in Brighton, East Sussex, and London, England. Carlton Towers, Selby, in the north of England, North Yorkshire to be precise, stands in for Hettam. "Dust" then moves on to what's supposed to be the Brazilian jungle, though it's actually filmed in Venezuela, around Angel Falls, the world's third highest. (Of course, we're to understand that this jungle is only slightly more bloodthirsty than that of London society.)
As is fairly well-known, movie and book are based, in part, on the breakup of Waugh's first marriage, and Waugh surely gets the last word on that (although the understanding is that Brenda's supposed to be stupid, as well as selfish, and Scott-Thomas is too smart, and observant, to be able to play stupid). Waugh then, it's said, was at a loss as to how to finish this work, so he combined it with a previously-published short story set in the Brazilian jungle: because of legalities, he was actually unable to use this ending when the book was published in the States, and had to come up with another.
"Dust" is handsomely filmed, and costumed, its cars and interiors are a treat, and it's got its author's flashes of mordant wit. The acting can't be faulted. But it's ultimately a downer, as is Waugh's book: these characters give us little to admire, and sure won't live happily ever after.
An excellent adaptation all round
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 11/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A Handful of Dust is arguably Evelyn Waughs finest novel, striking a perfect balance between dark humour and aching tragedy without indulging in the baroque excesses that make Brideshead so tempting and yet so flawed. In fact, HoD shares some of its themes with Brideshead Revisited, especially the threat posed to traditional aristocratic country life by a vapid modern lifestyle, and the destruction of the great English country house. But while at the end of Brideshead Charles Ryder has found redemption and is looking `unusually cheerful', nobody is smiling at the end of HoD - with the possible exception of the gruesome Mr. Todd, a lover of Dickens who is himself a Dickensian character as well as one of the most viciously evil personages to emerge from 20th century literature.
This quietly stylish production does full justice to the novel (but please do not use it as a substitute, you'll rob yourself of a wonderful read). James Wilby is perfect as the almost childishly naïve Tony Last, clinging to outdated codes of chivalry with such determination that he volunteers to take the role of guilty party in his divorce, even though it is his wife who is cheating on him. He seems to be looking at the modern world in a state of constant, bewildered surprise. But just when the callous Brenda thinks she's getting it all, it turns out that Tony is not quite the cuckold everybody took him for. Unfortunately, however, his plan of chasing the vision of a gothic dream city in the Brazilian jungle backfires in a way almost too cruel to bare.
The film has everything spot on. Huge, quaint and ugly Carlton Towers is a perfect choice for Hetton Hall; you can see why Tony loves it, yet understand why Brenda hates it. The art deco detail of the London scenes is delightful. And the jungle scenes add an exciting touch of adventure. But given Waughs razor-sharp texts, it is the characters that carry the movie, and all the actors make the most of them. Judy Dench is hilarious as the shamelessly exploitative Mrs. Beaver, Rupert Graves equally perfect as her disgusting leech of a son. Kristin Scott Thomas is Brenda to a tee, all elegance and style and bored, blind egotism. Young Jackson Kyle deserves special mention; he is an utterly endearing John Andrew which makes his eventual fate even more heart-wrenching than it already is in the novel. Anjelica Huston and Stephen Fry make small but significant appearances, the former as a likeable Mrs. Rattery, the latter as Brenda's caddish brother Reggy. And to top off this list of luxury casting we get Alec Guinness as the sly, Amazonian psychopath.
HoD never really got the attention it deserved; yet it is infinitely better than the much-hyped yet absolutely awful recent remake of Brideshead Revisited. Indeed, given the relative failure of Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things (i.e., Vile Bodies), HoD is still the only successful Waugh movie around (with the possible exception of the 1986 Scoop, which I haven't seen). Don't miss it. "