Friday August 27, 1999
"The Very Thought of You" is yet another blithe yet engaging romantic comedy from Britain distinguished by the ingenuity of its intricate plot and the appeal of its four stars. If you can't get enough of films like "Notting Hill" and "Sliding Doors," this picture is for you. Light and breezy, made with feeling, finesse and a sure sense of humor, writer Peter Morgan and director Nick Hamm have come up with a delightful late-summer diversion.
Much of the film unfolds in flashback as a distraught young man, Laurence (Joseph Fiennes), pours out his heart to an admirably attentive and constructive therapist (Ray Winstone). Laurence, who teaches bridge to London matrons, is lifelong friends with Frank (Rufus Sewell), a onetime child star on the skids, and Daniel (Tom Hollander), an immensely successful pop music industry executive.
Ready to board a flight from Minneapolis to London, Daniel is swept off his feet by a beautiful young blond, Martha (Monica Potter). Turning on all his considerable charm Daniel successfully conspires to get Martha, London-bound but on another airline, shifted to his flight--at a cost of $5,000.
Discovering that Martha is fleeing a bad relationship and a dull job with only $35 to her name, Daniel persuades her to let him put her up at a posh hotel, where he's to meet her for lunch the next day. Understandably, Daniel is stunned when she stands him up, but when he tells his sad story over lunch to his two oldest friends, Frank, jealous of Daniel and his success, makes no attempt to disguise his glee.
Right away we can see that a lifetime spent in the midst of his friends' unending rivalry has left the gentle Laurence chronically distraught and quick to freeze up. And when in Hyde Park Frank encounters none other than Martha, despondent and all set to return home, he quickly figures out who she is and is overcome with joy at the prospect of finding a way to trump Daniel resoundingly. But why did Martha, clearly a lovely and kindly young woman, stand up her rescuer and what has made her so despondent?
Morgan and Hamm make the unfolding of the film a significant part of the pleasure in watching it. One vignette keys the next with a consistent lack of predictability, with each development dovetailing precisely, if unexpectedly, with all that has gone before. Yet there is nothing mechanical about the movie, which is driven by the nature and temperament of its characters, in collision with one another and fate itself.
Soon we're caught up in their destinies and start rooting for Martha to find some happiness somewhere and for Laurence to get away from his bickering pals long enough to develop some self-confidence. And when you find yourself caring for people in a film it generates suspense as to what their ultimate fates will be.
Since "The Very Thought of You" is a romantic comedy this means that the immature, self-defeating Frank and the glib Daniel have to come across as appealing despite their drawbacks, which in Frank's case are considerable. (Daniel is actually quite likable but has let his career consume him.) Rufus Sewell is just the actor to play Frank. He's a chameleon in his ability to inhabit a wide range of characters no matter what kind of individual they may be.
Potter and Fiennes are at once quirky and captivating, and there's an ensemble feel to the entire cast of this glowing, amusing movie that's a good bet to lift your spirits.
The Very Thought of You, 1999. PG-13, for strong language. A Miramax Films release of a Channel Four Films presentation of a Banshee production. Director Nick Hamm. Producer Grainne Marmion. Screenplay by Peter Morgan. Cinematographer David Johnson. Editor Michael Bradsell. Music Ed Shearmur. Costumes Anna Sheppard. Production designer Max Gottlieb. Art director Mark Raggett. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Monica Potter as Martha. Rufus Sewell as Frank. Tom Hollander as Daniel. Joseph Fiennes as Laurence. Ray Winstone as Pedersen.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times