Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call, Transsiberian) and adapted for the screen by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill, Inamorata) from an Edgar Allen Poe short story (The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether) Stonehearst Asylum stars Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall), Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Ashes), David Thewlis (Macbeth, The Theory of Everything) along with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as well as some of England’s finest character actors like Jason Flemyng and Sinead Cusak. Set in 1899 just as the world is slipping into the 1900s; Beckinsale plays Lady Eliza Graves, a woman driven mad by her brutish husbands sexual demands on their wedding night.
This is the reason given for her incarceration, but in reality, she attacks her husband with a comb and puts out one of his eyes when he attempts to force her into sodomy.
A doctor known as an Alienist, played by Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Safe House) parades Graves at a medical lecture where he induces her to have a fit by touching her “inappropriately.” Later, a young Alienist, Dr. Newgate, comes to Stonehearst Asylum to become the latest member of staff in the madhouse. The stone structure is out in the middle of nowhere and the first person the young doctor meets is Mickey Finn (Thewlis) who is disturbing to say the least.
Once inside, Newgate meets the Asylum head, Dr. Lamb (Kingsley) and learns that the doctor does not give drugs to the incarcerated patients and practices new and unusual treatments. The new doctor meets Lady Graves and later finds that Lamb and Finn are actually patients who overpowered the real staff and taken over. Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) and the remainder of the asylum’s professional care takers have been locked in cages in the building’s basement.
The look and feel of this 2014 film is a mixture of mystery, thriller and a good old fashioned romantic Gothic love story. Enough of the real inhuman treatments of the clinically insane are featured in the film and this marks the second time that Kingsley and Caine have worked together, the first being their Holmes and Watson double act in the 1988 film Without a Clue.
The sets and the lighting combine to create what looks to be a perfect recreation of the back end of the Victorian Era. Cinematographer Tom Yatsko (Gotham, The Day After Tomorrow) pulls out all the stops to make this film moody, atmospheric and Victorian. The only anachronism is the reference to slipping someone a Mickey Finn before the phrase became well known, as the setting is just prior to 1900 and the saying did not become popular until 1915 according to Wikipedia.
All the actors deliver brilliant performances. David Thewlis, who repeatedly plays roles so full of menace, does not disappoint as the mad lady-killer and Sturgess gives a wonderful turn as the love struck medico. Sir Ben Kingsley shows once again why he is an award winning actor and Michael Caine does the same. Beckinsale is appropriately stressed as the woman who freaks at a too-familiar touch and Brendan Gleeson is seen far too little.
A little nepotism is apparent in the casting, although not a lot as he does not appear until towards the end of the film, as Kingsley’s son Edmund plays the role of Sir Charles Graves, Beckinsale’s brutish screen husband whose sexual tastes drives her into the madhouse.
For anyone who adores British cinema (And who does not?) this is a 5 star film. Despite being set, very loosely, on a Poe short story, the movie feels as English as London fog. Streaming on US Netflix it is worth the time spent to watch it. Pop yourself some corn, grab a glass of fizzy and enjoy.
1 June 2015