out of Five
Running time: 119
Enjoyable, impressively directed melodrama that stays just the right side of kitsch and features a superb performance by Romola Garai.
What's it all about?
Set in Edwardian England and based on the novel by Elizabeth Taylor (inspired, in turn, by the life of author Marie Corelli), Angel stars Romola Garai as precocious, would-be novelist Angel Deverell, whose ignorance of the ways of the world doesn't prevent her from penning a luridly explicit romance novel. Publisher Theo Gilbright (Sam Neill) sees Angel's potential and she soon becomes the Barbara Cartland of her day, thanks to her best-selling Lady Irania series.
Angel's new-found fortune allows her to buy the house of her dreams and she moves into Paradise House, accompanied by her adoring secretary, Nora (Lucy Russell). Angel subsequently marries Nora's brother, Esme (Michael Fassbender) but their marriage runs into difficulties and when the First World War breaks out, Esme enlists against Angel's will.
Director Francois Ozon shoots in the style of a 1950s Hollywood melodrama, complete with unconvincing back projection work, overblown dialogue and a lush score courtesy of Philippe Rombi. However, Ozon is careful to remain just the right side of kitsch and the story never descends into outright parody.
Romola Garai is brilliantly cast as Angel and she really throws herself into the role. There's also strong support from Fassbender (who looks a little like Ewan McGregor) and Lucy Russell, while Ozon regular Charlotte Rampling adds texture with a finely judged cameo as Gilbright's wife.
The film's biggest problem is that Angel is such a thoroughly obnoxious character that it's impossible to engage with her on an emotional level. She's brattish, arrogant, selfish and infuriating and the script steadfastly refuses to offer her any shot at redemption, which is rather unsatisfying for the audience.
That said, Ozon's films are always worth watching and Angel is no exception, thanks to great direction and a committed performance from Garai.