Fans of Peter Greenaway's arch and ornate films (The Draughtsman's Contract, Drowning by Numbers) may enjoy The Serpent's Kiss. A young Dutch landscape artist named Chrome (Ewan MacGregor) is hired by a homely but rich lan... more »downer named Smithers (Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father, The Usual Suspects) to turn his overgrown estate into a masterpiece of topiary and hedge mazes. But unbeknownst to Smithers, Chrome is fulfilling the will of Smithers's ardent enemy (Richard E. Grant, Withnail & I), who hopes to bankrupt the wealthy man and seduce his beautiful wife (Greta Scacchi). When Chrome falls under the spell of Smithers's enigmatic daughter, all plans go awry. The strong cast wallows entertainingly in this mix of jealousy, decadence, intriguing visuals, Machiavellian schemes, and heaving bosoms, with Grant performing with his usual lurid gusto. The sumptuous Restoration-era costumes enhance this meditation on art versus nature. --Bret Fetzer« less
"I thought Ewan's performance in The Serpent's Kiss was one of his finest ever. I have seen all of his movies, and he still amazes me every time with the depth of his talent. I found it to be a beautiful, sensual film. His scenes with Carmen Chaplin, who plays his love interest, were very romantic and moving. It is very refreshing today to see a film without all the violence, profanity, and explicit sex scenes. I also enjoyed knowing it was filmed in Ireland, because I have visited that beautiful country. Other co-stars include Pete Postlethwaite, Greta Scacchi, and Richard Grant. I waited a long time to see this film, and it was definitely worth the wait."
Filming Marvell's Poetry
Linda | Boston, MA, USA | 09/11/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Experiencing "The Serpent's Kiss" benefits from a re-reading of Andrew Marvell's poetry, the volume that figures so strongly in the film. Characters' lines, at times direct quotes, derive from "The Garden," "Holland," "Bermudas," "To His Coy Mistress," "The Reaper" and others. The characters, in costume, actions, motives and speech, enact the dualities that Marvell explores: Nature versus artifice, eros versus reason, the present versus posterity, humility versus vanity, love versus materialism.
The cinematography, production design and costumes recreate the world of Vermeer, Van Dyke and other 17th century Dutch painters. The film's visual aspects are emblematic of (and sometimes in contrast to) the spirit of late 17th century Northern Europe, especially Holland, England and Ireland, and reward symbolic readings of color, light, and composition.
The script makes fascinating use of imagery, involving flowers, water, industry and agriculture, darkness and light, which enriches the narrative when traced. Consider the use of brambles, the scent of flowers, their exotic versions from the "dark side of the world", tobacco and "medicinal" herbs. In effect, the film asks What is and where is the real garden? Who is barren and who is fertile, physically and spiritually?
Although somewhat simplistic and awkward in execution and with some uncomfortable anachronisms in the script (not "f***" by the way, which has been around a long time), this is a thoughtful, delicately humorous film, well-acted and produced with unusual commitment and deep feeling there within the esthetic feast. In any event, filmed poems are rare.
[Looking into the Glorious Revolution of 1689 when William and Mary became Britain's rulers, seeing pictures of their garden at Het Loo, so similar to Chrome's design, and researching details of Marvell's life reveals the filmmakers' attempt to ground this film in time, place and experience)."
Valerie Miller | Thousand Oaks, California United States | 08/25/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It seems that our fine Mr. McGregor has a terrible propensity for duplicity. One minute he's starring in big-budget Hollywood productions (Moulin Rouge/ Star Wars), the next he appears in little unknown art house films such as The Serpent's Kiss, which no one saw along with Nora and failed terribly at the box office.
As far as The Serpent's Kiss is concerned, I wish more people knew about this film. Not only is it well acted by a well assembled all-star cast (such notables as Greta Scacchi, Pete Postlethwaite, and Richard E. Grant), but is beautifully photographed and the plot is sure to thrill you - if you can sit still long enough to pay attention.
I almost gave up on this film solely due to the irritating nature of Ewan's poor Dutch accent, but as the film continued I was relieved to discover that the accent was supposed to be that way due to the nature of the character (believe me, I was very relieved - for a while there I thought Ewan was getting lazy and had stopped trying).
This film also manages to make gardening seem interesting - and erotic even, as the sexual tension between a few of the characters thickens very, very quickly.
The DVD sadly is disappointing as there are no behind-the-scenes special features which is what I half bought the thing for. So you are buying the CD for the movie alone.
This film is entertaining and beautiful, and Ewan is just gorgeous in it, but not his best work."
C. Jannuzi | Fukui, Japan | 06/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Comparisons to Greenaway are misleading. It gets compared to him mostly because of one film (Draughtman's Contract, Greenaway's best if you ask me) and one fine actor (Ewan McGregor, who starred in another Greenaway film, the Pillow Book).The characters are deeper and more human in this film, rather than simply representing ideas in some sort of post-modern satire. The acting is all around excellent. I can't think of a single performance that wasn't above average to astounding. To discuss the film's plot in detail is to risk giving too much away, as this is a film where there is a lot of surprise and mystery about the main character, Minier Chrome (Ewan McGregor) and his increasingly complex relationship with the Smithers family, for whom he is building a splendid baroque garden.A better 'genre' comparison might be Robert Downey Jr. and Meg Ryan film set in almost the same time period, Restoration (just a bit before). However that film moved around a lot and centered on a wildly uneven character, and in this one, no characters truly dominate (though the actor who plays Fitz steals every scene he is in), and we hardly ever leave the estate where the garden is being built (an English estate, but filmed in Ireland, where apparently the countryside is far more intact)."
A Study of Nature-- and Human Nature
B. E. Keown | Massachusetts, United States | 02/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It took this movie several years to find a distributor in the U.S., which is one of the reasons so few people have had the pleasure of seeing it. While it has been noted that the plot tends to be slow in unravelling, this can be entirely forgiven, as you become completely immersed in the world that this film creates. It deals with man's need to control nature and the craving of the spirit to be free.
Meener Chrome (Ewan McGregor) has been hired by a wealthy (and vain) land-owner named Smithers (Pete Postlewaite) and his wife Julianna (Greta Scacchi) to design a garden from the wilderness outside their inherited estate. As the family attempts to convert this field into a model of order, they are also trying to tame their daughter Thea (also called Anne), whose wild spirit is being crushed in this world of obedience and rigidity. It is only later that we learn that "Meener Chrome" is in the pay of Julianna's cousin, Fitzmaurice (Richard E. Grant). Almost mad with jealousy that Julianna has married another, Fiztmaurice intends to use Smither's vainity against him and financially ruin him through this elaborate garden and drive Julianna back into his arms.
While Chrome tries to bring order to the world around him, the world inside Smither's home begins to spin out of control. Julianna becomes captivated with Chrome, who in turn has completely fallen in love with Thea. Against the orders of her 'physicians' and her parents, Chrome attempts to bring some calm into Thea's life and offer her freedom from the world that is driving her to madness. Fitzmaurice, insensed that Chrome would pull out of the bargain rather than hurt Thea, and with Julianna's infatuation with him, descends deeper into his own insanity, which proves to be his destruction. Eventually, Chrome rescues Thea and find their own happiness, while Smithers and his wife must try to begin again, with nothing left but their garden.
This film is visually stunning, as we see this wild landscape transformed to a vision of late 17th century order and beauty, and later destroyed by a windstorm. The costumes and settings lend an almost surreal touch to this story that plays almost like a fairytale. To watch it once is not enough. McGregor's accent seems very half-hearted and sporadic, but in re-visiting the scenes, one can see 'Chrome's' true identity in his intentional misuse of his accents. The film is mainly a character driven, psychological story that is not for those looking for quick entertainment. Though the plot does tend to be a bit slow, the intense subtlety and power of the final scenes more than compensate. If you wish to lose yourself in a world of beauty and intruigue, The Serpent's Kiss might very well be a dream come true."