Minnie Driver makes a far more credible Orthodox Jew than Renee Zellweger did in A Price Above Rubies, but The Governess itself is only marginally better than that tiresome, contrived picture.
The Governess, British writer/director Sandra Goldbacher's feature debut, concerns a young Jewish woman in 1840s London who accepts a position as a governess in Scotland rather than submit to an arranged marriage with an elderly fishmonger. Because of rampant anti-Semitism, Rosina Da Silva (Driver) must masquerade as a gentile.
Calling herself Mary Blackchurch, she leaves the warmth of London's Sephardic Jewish community and moves to an isolated mansion in a remote part of Scotland, occupied by a cold, dysfunctional family. Her young charge, Clementina Cavendish (Florence Hoath of Fairy Tale -- A True Story), acts out her own loneliness and craving for attention by putting dead rats in Rosina's bed.
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Mrs. Cavendish (Harriet Walter, whose sad, pale face and sagging hair curls suggest a morose cocker spaniel) feels trapped and desperate, partially because Mr. Cavendish (Tom Wilkinson of The Full Monty and Priest) completely ignores her. Rosina takes an interest in Mr. Cavendish's photography experiments and, sooner than you can say "cheese," the two become lovers. Complicating matters is the fact that Clementina's brother Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), just expelled from Oxford, also becomes smitten with her.
Henry can't handle the intensity of Rosina's love and jilts her. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! After a promising opening, during which Rosina is introduced as an intelligent, spirited young woman, the film takes a nose dive. Increasingly self-absorbed, Rosina loses all viewer sympathy by neglecting her pitiable young ward and then by seducing a clearly reluctant Cavendish Sr. (There is little chemistry between the lovers, which doesn't help.)
The film looks great (kudos to British cinematographer Ashley Rowe, who also shot the creepily effective Sister, My Sister) and Goldbacher shows definite talent, but The Governess can't overcome its grandiose, melodramatic story line and ultimately unlikable heroine.
Directed by Sandra Goldbacher. With Minnie Driver, Florence Hoath, Tom Wilkinson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.