The Cazalets (2001)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I'm not a big fan of storylines missing crucial emotional elements to explain the behavior and motivations of their characters. Unfortunately, that is the main problem plaguing this production -- a series of events populated by inexplicable decisions and reactions. What could have been a deep exploration of family dynamics comes across as superficial instead.
It is the summer holidays, and the entire Cazalet family is invited down to the country house for the summer. Hugh (Hugh Bonneville) is the morally responsible brother who desperately loves his increasingly ill wife, and takes a loving hand with their gentle daughter, who fears leaving their cat behind for summer vacation will traumatize him. Edward (Stephen Dillane) wears the appearance of good manners, and is a seemingly good husband to Vera (Lesley Manville), but underneath is an unrepentant philanderer whose biggest fan is his dreamer daughter, Louise (Emma Griffiths Malin), who wants to become an actress one day. The free-spirited artist Rupert (Paul Rhys) is newly married to bombshell Zoe (Joanna Page), while his two children from a previous marriage try to come to terms with their new stepmother.
Maids acting up in their absence. A new mistress for Stephen in the form of a wealthy socialite (Anna Chancellor). Budding love between two women. Sibling rivalries, competitive cousins, unhappy wives, impending cancer... all start to unfold amid an increasing shift in Great Britain toward war with Germany. The result is a splendid cast given mismatched scenes to work with; we don't see any of them often enough to get to know them, and emotions flash and bubble before vanishing without much exploration. So many things are unclear. The narrative feels too broad, like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake. The other tragedy of it is, given the weakness of the writing and us popping in and out of their lives at random now and again, we're left with a bunch of rather unlikable events and characters. Since it is based on a book series, I assume the novels have more explanations for motives and a better sequence of events.
The costumes and cast are wonderful; the scenes are evocative and the backdrop interesting. Some of the storylines actually do have some weight to them, revolving around miscarriages and unexpected pregnancies. Foolish, utterly human mistakes are made, sometimes atoned for, at other times brushed under the rug. The children in particular resonate... and then it ends, abruptly, leaving storylines unresolved and questions hanging in the air. Since there is no second season forthcoming, I'm not sure it's worth the bother.
Five semi-graphic (movement) sex scenes in the first episode (one with breast nudity); implications of adulterous affairs later (couples in bed together); a man tries to rape a woman, only to have her cease protesting and make out with him; a man, while drunk, fondles and forcefully kisses his teenage daughter in two episodes (he stops when she resists). A lesbian couple kiss one another, and become intimate in bed in one episode; later attempts to recreate this intimacy are thwarted by shyness / a seeming resistance to physical affection on behalf of one participant.
Minor profanities; a couple abuses of God's name.
A man finds the maid strangled their cat (he sees the dead body, unwinds a ribbon from around its neck); bombs go off around London.
A married man lies to cover up his affairs, and coerces his daughter into silence by saying the truth would hurt her mother; after impregnating his mistress, he suggests she have an abortion and tries to find a way to make it possible.