An entertaining cast make the curious Effie Gray more engaging than it might otherwise have been
“Marriage, dear boy, is all about learning how to wait”
In what turned out to be an afternoon of staid, true-life Victorian romances, Effie Gray turned out to be the odder. Richard Laxton’s film, written by Emma Thompson, follows the story of the troubled marriage between polymath John Ruskin and Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray which was never consummated and ended when she bucked the social mores of the time to pursue an annulment, which she was indeed granted.
And starting as we do with the marriage between the pair, we see a lot – a LOT – of the dry and dessicated home life of the couple which kicks off with him professing disgust at her naked person and agreeing a five year abstention from sex so he could focus on his work. Plus, his family – with whom they live – aren’t much keener on her, so life’s generally a downer.
Which means that much of the film is too. Dakota Fanning’s Effie isn’t bad but she isn’t too gripping as a lead character and whilst Greg Wise’s clipped John also fits the same level of competence, both characters come across as extremely one note, which makes the film quite wearying in all its marital discord. It doesn’t take much for Julie Walters to steal all her scenes as his fearsome mother.
The introduction of Tom Sturridge’s John Everett Millais at least adds another voice but even this putative new romance for Effie ends up rather anaemic rather than moving, even with its storied real-life history. In the end, Russell Tovey and Linda Bassett’s domestic staff feel much more interesting in their short scenes – one to approach with caution tbh.