Gambling with Love
One of the strangest love stories ever filmed is a sweeping period drama set in Australia during the Victorian Era. Oscar and Lucinda tells the tale of two misfits, both consumed with a passion for gambling, who grow to care deeply about each other.
The free-spirited Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) first meets Oscar (Ralph Fiennes), an uptight Anglican minister, when she asks him to hear her confession. Worried about her addiction to wagering, Lucinda hopes confessing will help cure this habit. Since Oscar is also a gambler, what starts out as a religious experience ends in a game of cards. Thus begins an unusual relationship that, while continuously revolving around gambling, develops into one of mutual devotion.
However, both Oscar and Lucinda are unwilling to risk declaring their true feelings. Misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and a final dangerous bet work to keep them apart. Hoping to convince Lucinda of his love, Oscar wagers that he can transport a glass church over treacherous territory and deliver it to another minister he believes she loves. Oscar’s reckless decision causes misadventures never dreamed of by our unconventional hero.
Although I’m not usually impressed by Fiennes (Oscar-nominee for The English Patient and Schindler’s List), he won me over with his shy and fragile portrayal of Oscar. In contrast, Blanchett (a newcomer when this movie was released), who shows tremendous potential for stardom, endows Lucinda with a devil-may-care manner that perfectly complements her co-star’s more subdued performance. These two share some wonderfully tender moments on screen, and I was drawn into their enchanting scenes together by the special chemistry between them.
Regrettably, the rest of the movie fails to maintain this emotional intensity. After a promising opening, the film’s last half meanders so much I thought it would never end. Based on Peter Carey’s sprawling novel and directed by Gillian Armstrong of Little Women fame, Oscar and Lucinda left me awed by its beautiful scenery and costumes – but disappointed with its convoluted presentation. And yet, one could do worse than spend time with two romantically challenged characters who show us how important it is to follow our hearts.
WARNING: If you prefer romance movies with happy endings, Oscar and Lucinda may not be right for you. Head for the video store and rent Sleepless in Seattle or An Affair To Remember again instead.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated "R" for a scene of sexuality and brief violence.)