DIRECTOR: Richard Laxtonexclusive-effie-gray-uk-poster-167800-a-1410431464-470-75

CAST: Dakota Fanning, Emma Thompson, Greg Wise, Tom Sturridge, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Claudia Cardinale, David Suchet, Derek Jacobi, James Fox, Russell Tovey, Riccardo Scamacia, Polly Dartford

RUNNING TIME: 108 mins


BASICALLY…: Effie Gray (Fanning), the young wife of art critic John Ruskin (Wise), finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage and a lonely state of mind…


Despite not being the first film to focus on the doomed marriage of John Ruskin and Euphemia “Effie” Gray – a few television serials and a silent film from 1912 have come before it – this particular telling of the story has been met with lawsuits aplenty from various writers, claiming that Emma Thompson’s supposedly “original” screenplay was lifted from their own sources. Of course, the writer-actress won out in those cases, and her vision is what we see today with Effie Gray as directed by noted TV director Richard Laxton (whose credits include John Hurt vehicle An Englishman in New York and various episodes of BBC Three sitcom Him & Her).

The vision itself, however, is very muted and lacks a certain sparkle that helps it transcend into anything truly spectacular. As a costume drama, it is decent enough and enthusiasts of the Victorian era shall find plenty to enjoy with characters’ clothing ranges, but there’s not much else to make it stand out amongst the crowd in terms of its storytelling methods.

As stated, there have been countless tellings of this particular story in the past so it’s not much of a ground-breaking revelation to those aware of the circumstances, and even the plot itself of a young and affectionate woman marrying a cold and uncaring man only to find true love elsewhere has been done to death in many other films that it’s hard for fresher-minded audiences to truly be fixated on things when it’s all so predictable. Right from the offset, you can spot that the lack of chemistry between Gray (played here by Dakota Fanning) and Ruskin (Greg Wise) will lead to misery and despair for at least one of them, and you’ll be playing the waiting game until one of them eventually decides to move on. For anyone who is looking for a break from the formula, this unfortunately isn’t it.

The other major downfall is, despite some very atmospheric cinematography by Andrew Dunn which is at times neatly made up like a painting from the time period, there does not seem to be much in terms of true beauty being shown from how it’s lit, shot etc. It feels as if there’s no colour to it, a drab and lifeless set of images which despite the best efforts of everyone involved can’t help but feel anything other than, well, grey. As far as colour schemes go there have been far worse efforts this year, but even still there is an overbearing sense that Dulux is sorely missed from the proceedings.

As for the cast, they do what they do to the best of their abilities but once more seem to be let down by the disappointingly bland material (and that is made even more disappointing because Thompson has proven to be in the past a very lively and spirited writer). Wise does fine as Ruskin, here portraying him as some sort of quasi-paedophile mama’s boy which may annoy fans of the real-life figure but offers many a question regarding his treatment of those around him, possibly due to the overbearing nature of parents Julie Walters and David Suchet. Thompson, in a fairly small role as a confidant of Effie’s, is always fun to watch; and both Russell Tovey and Derek Jacobi leave strong impressions in small but poignant parts. As for Fanning herself, she has some good moments of silent heartbreak and her English accent isn’t bad either, but her role is not fleshed out enough for the actress to truly shine. She has certainly proven that she has good talent in previous movies; it just so happens that here, she is, like her character, trapped.

For any actor, even this talented bunch, working around thin material is extremely difficult to do so they should all be commended for at least making the effort instead of phoning in their performances. This reviewer does feel bad for ripping into the material like this, especially seeing how it was written by an often very lively writer/actress, but the fact of the matter is that Effie Gray just isn’t strong enough to leave an impression. As a straightforward costume drama it has its moments, but otherwise it’s as grey as the surname of the titular character.


Despite committed performances from Dakota Fanning and the rest of the ensemble, as well as some atmospheric cinematography, Effie Gray is a disappointingly bland screenplay by Emma Thompson that doesn’t do much with its tired story, and relies far too heavily on a series of images that aren’t colourful or even that pleasant to look at. One for enthusiasts of costume dramas only.