The End of the Affair

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

The End of the Affair

6/10

USA/UK 1999, dir. Neil Jordan, stars Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea

I can’t claim to be a fan of Neil Jordan’s films – it doesn’t help that he has an unhealthy obsession with Stephen Rea, who, for some reason, I’ve never been able to abide. Julianne Moore, however, is a very different matter, so I was willing to give End of the Affair a try. I won’t say I’m exactly converted to either Jordan or Rea as a result, but the film is a decent piece of work and it did serve to open my eyes to the abilities of Ralph Fiennes, who, previous to this, I wasn’t bothered about one way or the other.

He’s perfect in the role of Maurice Bendrix, a slightly conceited novelist who, during World War 2, conducts a steamy affair with Sarah Miles (Moore), discontented wife of dull diplomat Henry (Rea), only for the liaison to be abruptly and inexplicably terminated by Sarah during a Blitz attack. The story flashes back and forth – sometimes confusingly – between the period of the affair and its aftermath, during which both Henry and Bendrix suspect Sarah is seeing a mysterious third lover, and hire a private detective (a flashy Ian Hart) to get to the truth.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the film, but that’s precisely what the movie’s pre-publicity and trailer have contrived to do. Even this cannot detract, however, from Fiennes’ full-tilt performance, capturing Bendrix’s arrogance and helplessness in the face of forces he cannot and will not accept. Moore is competent enough as Sarah, but, given her astonishing track record, that must count as a disappointment. Her performance as Sarah call to mind Meryl Streep’s amazing work as Susan Trehearne in 1983’s Plenty, and although on balance Moore is the better actress, in this particular one-to-one she comes off a distinct second best.

On a technical level the film is a treat, with costumes, sets and Michael Nyman’s score all more than pulling their weight, while Jordan sensibly keeps the visuals pretty low-key and lets the cast get on with it. There are some directionless moments along the way, but these are outweighted by a climax which packs a definite emotional punch. All in all, nothing spectacular, but certainly worth a look.

by Neil Young
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