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Mrs. Soffel

By Laura Mirsky

An air of gothic romanticism pervades every aspect of this remarkable film, based on a true story from the turn of the 20th century. In its torrid plot, one can hear the icy restraints of the Victorian era cracking. Diane Keaton is uncannily perfect as Kate Soffel, wife of a priggish prison warden (Edward Herrmann). She's funny and touching playing what used to be called a "neurasthenic"--a nervous, depressed woman with mysterious physical ailments. When the film opens, Kate is just recovering from a three-month-long spell, and back at work preaching to the inmates in her husband's prison. Whom should she encounter but dangerous death row inmate Ed Biddle, in the irresistible person of Mel Gibson. The forbidden affair that blossoms between them is feverishly exciting, but the film operates on myriad other levels. Director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) have much to say about capital punishment, and about the miserable fate of women in this repressive society who dare to act on their passions. There's nothing morally clear-cut in this movie, which is what makes it consistently fascinating. Kate and Ed's romance is as right as it is wrong; we never really know how to feel about either of them. The film's stunning cinematography and superb period details are exhilarating, from the towering, bleak beauty of the prison to the gorgeous panoramic chase scenes of horse-drawn sleighs in the snow.

 

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FILM FACTS

Buy this VHS movie from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Buy this DVD from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Soundtrack unavailable at Amazon.com - try eBay (see links below)Rated PGNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Diane Keaton, Mel Gibson, Matthew Modine, Edward Herrmann, Trini Alvarado, Jennie Dundas, Danny Corkill, Terry O'Quinn

Released: December 26, 1984

Availability: DVD VHS


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