It’s odd to see that this film is trying to get its second wind after its initial 2014 release date, but the years have not been kind. What feels like a missed opportunity to turn one of the biggest scandals of the Victorian times, at least amongst the art world and the London elite, just comes across as long and winding to a very unsensational end.
When Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray marries the older celebrated art critic and writer John Ruskin, she believes she will be happy. But she soon realises that her married life is far from what she imagined. Bullied by her overbearing mother-in-law and negated by her husband, who also refuses to consummate the marriage, Effie falls into loneliness and illness. While on a visit to her native Scotland she finds comfort and love with the painter, John Everett Millais. But before she can find her true happiness, she must escape the cruelty of the Ruskin family.
Looking at the cast, the story, and the fact that Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay, you would expect that this film should be at least interesting. However, that is not the case at all. With the compelling actress Dakota Fanning in the centre role of Effie Gray herself, she spends the time looking out of windows and the bleak Scottish countryside. This is such a shame and a waste of her talent, but it is not Fanning’s fault. She does her upmost to give life to Effie Gray but the story just isn’t there. With a plot involving such a scandal, director Richard Laxton has decided to go for an understated approach which doesn’t feel compelling. The screenplay, too, is slightly off in that it barely touches upon the love triangle with Ruskin, Gray and Millais. The love story between the latter is not really explored, it barely registers on screen. There are hints of other elements of Ruskin’s personality but again, this is not expanded. Though this is Gray’s story, we only meet her as she marries Ruskin. Their courtship and first meeting when she was 12 and he was 21 is mentioned in passing. If their marriage and relationship was to be the main focus, this is where it could have begun. The scandal, although not treated as one in the film, is played out quietly and carefully and feels almost anti-climactic. But the end scene, in keeping with the molasses slow pace of the entire film, is actually quite endearing.
Set up to be another British historical costume drama about a relationship that doesn’t exist is difficult to sit through. Despite the excellent cast, they cannot make this fascinating story interesting to watch. There are quite a few missed opportunities here which is a shame, with the talent involved. For anyone who just likes placid stories with little to no dramatics, you might get something out of this.
Effie Gray is out on DVD on 19th April.