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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 12:31 GMT
Good forecast for Shipping News
Julianne Moore and Kevin Spacey play the love interests
The Shipping News is a heart-warming tale
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

After tackling the adaptation of Joanne Harris' novel Chocolat, director Lasse Halstrom has turned his attention to the wilds of E Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News.

The quiet gentilesse of a French rural town is swapped for the more rugged and coarse landscape of Newfoundland, but the emphasis remains on characters and human tragedy.

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett gives a show-stopping cameo performance
Kevin Spacey plays Quoyle, a loser in life and love, whose one joy is his daughter and she is the result of a rather unsavoury coupling with the exploitative Petal Bear, played by Cate Blanchett with some aplomb.

The opening is a whirlwind of activity with Quole meeting Petal, falling in love, impregnating her, becoming a father, becoming estranged and then a widower, all in the first 10 minutes.

Exhale

Only the energy of Blanchett's cameo role sustains interest, as Spacey's hang-dog routine as the downtrodden everyman grates with over-familiarity.

It is a breathless opening but as soon as the film transfers to the coast of Canada it begins to inhale and exhale and the characters grow.

Where Chocolat detailed the destabilising impact one woman has on a closed community, The Shipping News is about how a closed community comes to accept and nurture an outsider.

Quoyle has to come to terms with his past, and that of his family, and re-integrate himself into a world which operates by different rules.

After the death of Petal he follows an aunt, played by Dame Judi Dench, to the land of his fathers in Canada.

Offered a post as a journalist on a local paper, he begins to open his eyes to the town he lives in and his penned observations bring him closer to the community, while creating tension with some individuals.

Ghostly

There is a genuine charm and honesty about the film, building a real sense of a township with history, and it comes with fine performances from Julianne Moore as the love interest and Rhys Ifans in a cameo role as a British itinerant.

A spiritual and ghostly theme running through the movie does not succeed in creating the sense of other-worldliness I suspect was intended, and seems more of a sideshow to the main narrative.

The real pleasure in the film comes from watching the characters tell their stories and the glimpses we have of their lives.

It is a heart-warming tale, a kind of cinematic chicken soup to take to bed with you on winter nights when you are full of a head cold.

It makes for easy viewing and perhaps it is all a little undemanding.

No tragedy is too great, no sadness is too deep, no drama too concerning and the fault lies in the all too brief time we spend with the characters.

Glimpses

The greatest complaint about the film, and not one heard that often, is that it is too short.

As one would expect from a book adaptation there are some great stories left uncovered - we are given just glimpses into the lives of characters.

As the film concludes it feels like a mere foretaste of tales to be told and there is so much left unexplored.

Perhaps Hollywood studios feel that cinema audiences can no longer muster the concentration spans required.

But if Harry Potter is 151 minutes long then why is The Shipping News just 111 minutes in length?

The Shipping News opens in cinemas on 1 March.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | Reviews
The Shipping News: Your views
11 Jan 02 | Film
Making films by the book
13 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Delicious taste of Chocolat
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