Euphemia “Effie” Gray was once a woman stuck between a rock and a hard place. This free-spirited, Scottish lady was living in Victorian times and was trapped in a loveless and sexless marriage to a renowned art critic named John Ruskin. Divorce was not an option for Gray but despite this, she managed to find the strength and resolve to overcome the situation. The story itself is inspiring and interesting enough, but this film fails to do it all justice.
The film, Effie Gray was written by Emma Thompson who is known for her acting as well as having won an Oscar for writing the 1995 film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. In this latest offering, she chooses to adapt real-life events about Ruskin and Gray. It’s a bizarre love triangle and a tragic tale if there ever was one.
The story goes that Ruskin (played by Thompson’s real-life husband, Greg Wise) fell in love with Gray when she was 12 but they waited until she was 20 before they married. He was charming at first but his demeanour soon changed and he became a cold and distant mummy’s boy not long after they exchanged vows. He was also so repulsed by Gray’s naked form on their wedding night (there are different theories about why this was the case but no definitive conclusion) and this meant that the pair were married for six years but never actually consummated their relationship.
Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning in her most mature role to date) was a strong woman in a terrible situation. She was helped by her friendship to the warm and supportive Lady Eastlake (Thompson). (SPOILER ALERT) Gray eventually seeks an annulment of the doomed marriage on the grounds it was never consummated. She also falls in love with the painter, John Millais (Tom Sturridge). Gray and Millais marry and the pair have eight children together. It’s a nice end to a bitter and twisted tale.
Effie Gray is a slow and meandering period drama that features some solid performances from its cast. It’s also a dry look at a notorious love triangle and a Victorian scandal (things that scream “interesting”). The story itself is a fascinating one and the film is beautifully-shot, but it is ultimately let down by issues with its execution. It means this is one wasted opportunity because what could have been a strong and atmospheric drama about a woman who overcomes cruelty, indifference and psychological abuse, seems instead to be as hum-drum and cold as Messer John Ruskin himself.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Effie Gray is available on DVD now through Universal Sony Pictures.