Plot: What’s it about?
William Adamson (Mark Rylance) is a scientist with an extreme interest in insects, he loves to watch them, study their behavior traits, social models, he is just overtaken by their world and how they work within it. After a failed expedition in the Amazon region, Adamson is taken in by the Alabaster family, an Aristocratic bloodline with wealth, power, and as he soon discovers, more than a few dark secrets. In exchange for being allowed to reside with the family, he is charged with teaching the youngest daughters, a simple task, given his intelligence. But Adamson finds the most interaction with the older children, especially the beautiful Eugenia (Patsy Kensit) and after some time, he actually wins her hand, a most unexpected turn of events. As he continues his studies of his insects, he starts to think his life has taken a turn for the better, but the family’s servant Matty (Kristin Scott Thomas) has knowledge of things that few people know, including some of those closest to the family. What dark secrets remain hidden in the Alabaster household and if he discovers them, what will become of Adamson?
To say Angels & Insects isn’t a typical Victorian period piece would be a vast understatement, to say the least. Yes, it has all the usual elements found in lush period piece pictures, but it also has a darker, erotic side that separates it from most films of its kind. This is a beautiful motion picture however, one with incredible costumes, lavish set pieces, great makeup work, and dynamic, gorgeous cinematography, but this stylish film also has substance. As with most costume dramas, Angels & Insects moves at a rather slow pace, which allows the story to unfold in full, as well as let the viewers soak up all the rich visuals. The time moves quickly enough though, never too slowly and the time is filled with excellent performances, especially in terms of dialogue, which is spoken with a mastery not often witnessed. The slow pace & controversial subject matter (incest, tragic passion & need) narrow down the potential audience, but if you’re looking for a beautiful, often powerful film, then Angels & Insects would be a wise choice. The disc from MGM is lacking overall, but with a low asking price, it makes a worthy investment to those interested.
I usually discuss the film’s strongest suit in this paragraph, but this time around, I want to talk about the weak link, at least my opinion on what that is. I do so because in order to find a weak link, I have to nitpick and to me, that shows how strong the performances are in Angels & Insects, as even the weakest is still terrific. I feel the weakest of the troupe here is Kristin Scott Thomas, who turns in an ample, memorable performance, but struggles a tad with some of the material. Her lines are a little forced at times, but never to an extreme degree, just enough to notice, if you’re paying close attention, as I was. But they say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and in the end, even the weak link here comes through when it counts. Other films with Thomas include The English Patient, Random Hearts, Life as a House, Mission: Impossible, and The Horse Whisperer. The cast also includes Mark Rylance (Hearts of Fire, The Grass Arena), Patsy Kensit (Lethal Weapon 2, Hanover Street), Jeremy Kemp (Uncommon Valor, The Blue Max), and Douglas Henshall (Kull the Conqueror, Three Miles Up).
Video: How does it look?
Angels & Insects is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. This is not a bad overall presentation, but it has some flaws and the lack of anamorphic enhancement is inexcusable. I’m not sure why this film was skipped over when most of MGM’s 1.85:1 releases are indeed anamorphic, but it is a let down and I hope this kind of mishap is avoided in the future. The image has a soft appearance as intended, so don’t adjust your set or assume this is a problem with the transfer, as it is supposed to be a little on the soft side, for visual purposes. I found colors and contrast to be accurate and consistent, though the print does show a little more wear than expected. This is an acceptable, more than decent transfer, but MGM should have made it anamorphic, no doubt about it.
Audio: How does it sound?
Not much to discuss here, as this film is reliant upon dialogue and little else, so the audio is never much of a power in the experience. The music has some good presence at times, but remains in the background as intended, as do the various sound effects. The main element here is the dialogue, which sounds rich, clean, and never hard to understand. Not the kind of mix you’d want to show off your system with, but it does the material justice. This disc also includes a Spanish language option, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles, in case you might need those options.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.