Oscar and Lucinda

 

 

Cast and Credits

 

Directed by:   

Gillian Armstrong

Written by:

Peter Carey (novel); Laura Jones (screenplay)

Cinematography:

Geoffrey Simpson

 

Produced by:  

Robin Dalton (producer); Mark Turnbull (associate producer); Timothy White (producer)

Production companies:

Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC)

Dalton Films

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Meridian Films

New South Wales Film & Television Office

 

Cast

Ralph Fiennes             Oscar Hopkins

Cate Blanchett            Lucinda Leplastrier

Ciarán Hinds               Reverend Dennis Hasset

Tom Wilkinson           Hugh Stratton

Richard Roxburgh       Mr. Jeffries

Clive Russell               Theophilus

Bille Brown                 Percy Smith

Josephine Byrnes       Miriam Chadwick

Barnaby Kay              Wardley-Fish

Barry Otto                  Jimmy D'Abbs

Linda Bassett              Betty Stratton

Geoffrey Rush            Narrator (voice)

 

Release Dates

USA                31 December 1997 

Australia         22 January 1998 

UK                  3 April 1998

 

Box Office Figures

 

Australia

 

Oscar and Lucinda debuted at number 8 at the box office, screening on 104 cinemas. It took A$84, 818 in its first week. In the 6 weeks it was in the top 20 films, the film took A$218, 772. The entire box office takings of the film was $1.767M

 

United States

The film made US$137,163 in its opening weekend, screening on only 7 screens. It went on to make US$1.897M.

 

United Kingdom

Oscar and Lucinda made £45, 278 in its opening weekend, screening on 26 screens. The film took a total of £280,245, just out of the top 30 Australian films at the UK box office up to January 2003.

 

Interviews

 

Fischer, Paul "Blanchett, Cate: Oscar and Lucinda" Urban Cinefile (1997) <http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=757&s=Interviews> (7 March 2003)

 

Phan, Aimee " 'Oscar and Lucinda' portrays no ordinary love story" (21 January 1998)  <http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/db/issues/98/01.21/ae.oscar.html> (30 April 2003)

 

Bibby, Patricia, "Oscar's Wild: Gambling With Fiennes" (24 December 1997) <http://home.the-wire.com/~steph/rfrr/rfolap.html> (30 April 2003)

 

Hearty, Kitty Bowe,"Cate Blanchett Interview" Interview January 1998 Accessed via < http://cateblanchett.moondogdesigns.com/articles/97/acbi.html> (30 April 2003)

 

Strauss, Bob "That serious actor rolls the dice on romance, Emma Peel and a name change" E! Online <http://www.eonline.com/Celebs/Qa/Fiennes/> (1 May 2003)

 

Ramos, Steve, " 'Oscar and Lucinda' director Gillian Armstrong strives for audience enlightment while balancing family and career" (1998)

<http://www.citybeat.com/archives/1998/issue414/filmarticle1.html>

 

 

 

Reviews

Printed Media Reviews

 

Brett, Anwar "Oscar and Lucinda" Film Review (UK) May 1998, 23

Van Kruyssen, Helen "Oscar and Lucinda" Total Film (UK) May 1998, 91

Patterson, Troy, "Oscar and Lucinda", Entertainment Weekly 5 June 1998, 90

O’Brien, C S, "Oscar and Lucinda", Video Business 20 April 1998, 16

Carr, Jay, " 'Oscar and Lucinda' Wins Big With Shoot-The-Works Spirit", Boston Globe 23 January 1998, D1

Levy, Emanuel, "Oscar and Lucinda", Variety 8-14 December 1997, 110

Buss, Robin, "Oscar and Lucinda", The Times Education Supplement 17 April 1998, 11

Schickel, Richard, "Love, faith, hope and other eccentricities", Time 22 December 1997, 81

Rozen, Leah, "Oscar and Lucinda", People Weekly 19 January 1998, 18

Kelly, Christopher, "Oscar and Lucinda", Premiere (New York) June 1998, 105

Maslin, Janet, "A Bashful Fiennes And a Vivid Heiress In a Quirky Tale", New York Times 31 December 1997, E5

 

Internet Reviews (some of which are from Print Sources)

 

Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1998/01/012301.html

Ruthe Stein San Francisco Chronicle

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1998/01/23/DD46591.DTL

Barbara Shulgasser San Francisco Examiner

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/e/a/1998/01/23/WEEKEND8042.dtl

Mike Clark USA Today

http://www.usatoday.com/life/enter/movies/lef999.htm

Andrew Urban, Louise Keller and Paul Fischer Urban Cinefile

http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=730&s=Reviews

Bruce Kirkland Jam! Movies

http://www.canoe.ca/JamMoviesReviewsO/oscarandlucinda_kirk.html

Alex Patterson eye Weekly

http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_01.22.98/film/onscreen.html

James Berardinelli ReelViews

http://movie-reviews.colossus.net/movies/o/oscar.html

Jo Baltake The Sacremento Bee's Movie Club

http://www.movieclub.com/reviews/archives/98oscar/oscar.html

 

Online Presence

Oscar and Lucinda is well represented online, especially in the amount of detailed information available on the Internet Movie Database:

(http://us.imdb.com/Title?0119843)

The site had 43 links to external reviews, and detailed US box office information. Australian and UK box office information for the film was found on the AFC website (http://www.afc.gov.au).

There was also box office information, reviews and an interview on Urban Cinefile (http://www.urbancinefile.com.au)

The film had its own, albeit simple, website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/oscar/index.htm

Many of the unofficial fan sites I came across through a google (http://www.google.com) search had been removed, but one remained:

Unofficial Oscar and Lucinda

(http://geocities.com/Hollywood/Theater/1494/index.html)

 

Collecting Information

My starting point for information was the Internet Movie Database as this had detailed information and many external links. The information on UrbanCinefile was also very comprehensive. I also searched google for fan sites and reviews. For the print reviews, I searched the WebSpirs database, and got a lot of results. Interviews were scarce to find, most of them being about the prior or subsequent works of Fiennes and Blanchett. This was particularly because at the time of Oscar and Lucinda Blanchett had just been cast in the monumental role of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998.)

 

 

Critical Review

Oscar and Lucinda is the story of two gamblers who meet on a boat from England to New South Wales. Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes) is the son of a Plymouth brethren who was called to become an Anglican priest. Whilst in college, he becomes a compulsive gambler. Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett) is an Australian heiress who inherits her mother's large fortune and buys a glass factory. Loneliness leads her to gambling and on the voyage, the pair strike a friendship. In Sydney, Oscar's gambling leads him to be thrown out of the priesthood and he moves in with Lucinda, with whom he falls in love. The pair make a wager that Oscar cannot transport a glass church by land (as he is afraid of the sea) to Lucinda's friend and business partner, an outback priest (Ciaran Hinds), who Oscar thinks she is in love with. Oscar finds the journey harsh, especially the rivers and the murder of a group of Aboriginals by the expeditions leader (Richard Roxburgh) who Oscar kills. Whilst Oscar successfully transports the church to the remote town, he is rather traumatised by the time he gets there and is seduced by a local widow. He goes to pray in the floating glass church and drowns when it sinks. The story is narrated by the grandson of the child Oscar and the widow conceived who was raised by Lucinda.

 

I think the film is a slightly unusual take on a period drama: there are no dashing heroes and blushing heroines of the Jane Austen type. Both characters are misfits and the story does not have a typical fairytale ending, but is capturing nonetheless. Director Gillian Armstrong acknowledges this difference to typical period dramas. "It's black and ironic and tragic at times, but we hope people will love it and understand that it is an odd film,” she says.

 

I though the film was beautifully filmed and well paced. However, I felt the film was a little lacking in character development, and relied a little too much on our knowledge of Oscar and Lucinda's backgrounds for character motivation. This often happens in films adapted from novels, where some things are easier to tell than show, though the narrator relieved this problem a little.

 

The character of Oscar is obviously intended to be confused and conflicted and this is conveyed excellently by Fiennes. However, the character does little to create emotional attachment, rather he just irritated me. I found it hard to believe the feisty, determined Lucinda could love him, and the film did little to develop their passion.

 

However, his nature was an interesting tool for exploring the religious issues of the film. Oscar finds his religious calling by a game of chance, and he sees religion as a gamble. Other highly religious characters (Reverend Hasset, Mr Stratton and Oscar's father) found religion by choice rather than chance, and their convictions are much stronger than Oscar.

 

Critical Uptake of the Film

The film received mixed reviews, tending mostly on the negative side. The film was better received by critics than by the general public. I think the film was difficult to market, because although it was a period film, it did not subscribe to the traditions of the Jane Austen-type period film. In many ways, it was a very modern film, but its period setting made it difficult to attract the modern audience. According to Joe Baltake, "[t]he movie probably threw everybody off with its rather irreverent "modern" approach to faith, something that it makes subservient to the notion of fate.” The modern ideas, of faith, fate and our place in the world, do not mesh well with the traditional period film.

 

Louise Keller, like many Australian critics, "desperately wanted to like this film, but was sadly disappointed." Most critics seemed to believe the film had plenty of potential but something went awry somewhere along the way. It was odd to see such diverse range of explanations for the films downfall. Some critics claimed bad acting, others praising it as redeeming the film and the same applied to the directing and the script. The only uniform element amongst the critics was praise for Geoffrey Simpson beautiful cinematography, creating a "a visually scrumptious picture"[1]

 

The American critics were much kinder to the film: perhaps because they were not tied to the expectation it would be the next big Australian film. Whilst many Australian critics saw it as inferior to Carey's book, international critics found it "[s]mart and literary... filled with quirky characters and lush visuals"[2] and a "genuinely eccentric yet deeply insinuating film"[3] The American critics seem less tied down by expectations garnered by the complexity of the book. They compare the film with other period films (particularly Titanic), rather than the book, and are impressed with the films depth of the exploration of the issues of faith, fate, obsession and love. They are also impressed with its difference to traditional period dramas in its characters and story resolution.

 

Circumstances of its production and release and its box-office

 

Gillian Armstrong has wanted to make Oscar and Lucinda from when she first read the novel, which was released in 1988. She also wanted a then-unknown English actor, Ralph Fiennes, to play the role of Oscar. Unable to secure finance, both went on to do other, very successful projects. Armstrong got Hollywood recognition for her version of Little Women (1994) and Fiennes was nominated for Oscars for Schindler's List (1993) and The English Patient (1996). The pair teamed up when their schedules matched and Armstrong cast unknown Australian actress Cate Blanchett as Lucinda. Armstrong believed only an Australian actress could play Lucinda; "In my heart, I felt that this film is also about an Englishman meeting an Australian woman because they are stronger and more independent."[4]

 

As discussed earlier, the film made $1.767M in Australia, US$1.897 in the United States and £280, 245 in the United Kingdom. These box office figures were nowhere near the film's $18 million budget. The film was generally considered a flop. The kinder American critics seem to have helped a little, with the film making more there than in Australia.

 

The film was considered a disappointment by Australian critics and "certainly...put a dampener on expensive Australian period films”[5] The film was expected to do really well; after all it had government support, private US support and a wealth of formidable talent. It was adapted from a Booker-prize winning novel by Peter Carey, was directed by the acclaimed Gillian Armstrong on the back of American success with Little Women and starred Oscar-nominated Ralph Fiennes. However, the film was a box office flop, failing to return its budget. High-budgeted films have an inherently greater commercial risk and the failure of Oscar and Lucinda (and other high-budgeted flops like In a Savage Land (1999) and Paradise Road (1997)) has resulted in the FFC and private investors being unwilling to take that risk. Australian films without significant American input are now generally limited at $6M.

 

Subsequent and prior works of the films director and cast

 

Oscar and Lucinda was Armstrong's first feature film after her successful Hollywood hit, Little Women. "The irony was, after 'Little Women", I could have done a really big budget film. But this was my baby and my passion," says director Gillian Armstrong. Armstrong's career started out well, with the commercially and critically successful My Brilliant Career (1975). The video cover of Oscar and Lucinda asserts continuity with My Brilliant Career, describing Oscar and Lucinda as "an exotic romance, exquisitely directed by Gillian Armstrong, in a headstrong spirit that recalls her debut feature." Armstrong had a serious of flops in the 1980s including Starstruck (1982), Mrs Soffel (1984) and High Tide (1987), but was praised again for The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992). Her films almost all feature strong female protagonists and Oscar and Lucinda fits well in this mould. She continues this tradition in her latest film, Charlotte Gray (2001) which again stars Blanchett.

 

Oscar and Lucinda was Cate Blanchett's first lead role. Her next film was truly her breakthrough, starring as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Since then, she has starred in The Gift (2000), Bandits (2001), Charlotte Gray and Heaven (2002). She has also had supporting roles in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), The Shipping News (2001) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

 

Ralph Fiennes appeared in Oscar and Lucinda after his Oscar-nominated performances in Schindler's List and The English Patient. Oscar and Lucinda was followed by another flop, the action-adventure The Avengers, after which Fiennes went back to his dramatic origins in The End of the Affair (1999) and Onegin (1999). He has most recently appeared as the lead in the romantic comedy (new ground for him) Maid in Manhattan (2002.)

 

Praised cinematographer, Geoffrey Simpson, had previously worked with Armstrong on Little Women and The Last Days of Chez Nous as well as several Hollywood films and other Australian films (including Shine.)

 

 

General position of Australian films

 

Australian cinema has a "history of diversity in its storytelling"[6] and this diversity is evident in Oscar and Lucinda's refusal to subscribe to the period drama conventions, in particular the gender roles and story conclusion.

 

Australian films are often seen as complementary to American product in that they provide the audience with something a little different. The film is atypical of period films because it deals with a range of philosophical issues, such as faith, obsession and addiction, rather than the typical romance story. The audience finds value in Australian films, by giving them a place of 'difference' amongst the Hollywood films.

 

Australian films are often critical of male-female relations and family life and union of the couple in the end is unusual. [7]  The non-fairytale ending of Oscar and Lucinda and their lack of physical passion can be see typical of this critical view of relationships. This can also be seen in the non-nuclear family that Lucinda creates with Oscar’s son in the end of the film. The films use of the landscape is also typical of Australian films and its difference is also valued by the American audience.

 

Oscar and Lucinda was made in the 1990s where there was a diversity of films being made in Australia. The reduction in government support for private investment meant that more Australian films where made in collaboration with international investors and talent. Oscar and Lucinda was partially financed by American company Fox Searchlight Films. American finance usually means creating a film to appeal to the American audience however, Oscar and Lucinda retains its distinctive Australian setting and feel. The international appeal comes from the presence of well-known British actor Ralph Fiennes and successful director Gillian Armstrong.

 

Like many films in the 1990s, Oscar and Lucinda had woman-centric storyline and deals with gender roles  Lucinda is far from the typical period heroine, instead she is strong, independent and confident. She does not rely on men, in either a financial or emotional sense. In a role reversal, she provides Oscar with strength and support.

 

The film was partially funded by the Australian Film Finance Corporation, and the depth of issues in the film is typical of government funded films. From the late 1970s onwards, government funding has been geared towards films that are "quality" Australian stories. The period films of the late 1970s began to be devalued over time for their lack of contemporary relevance, however Oscar and Lucinda explores many modern issues in respect of gender roles, faith and addiction.

 

 

Medium Sized English Language Cinema

 

Australian national cinema, as an English-language cinema, is in competition with Hollywood product, but this also gives it a better chance of success in that market. It has to negotiate a space amongst the American films, either by imitation or by using Australian product as complementary, with its own niche.[8] Oscar and Lucinda uses some of the Hollywood traditions of period drama: extensive use of costume, colour, scenery and music. However, the film departs from Hollywood traditions because of the storyline. The characters do not fit into the gender stereotypes of a Hollywood period drama (ie. Strong, masculine hero and gentle, reserved heroine) nor is there a typical ending where the couple work through their differences and get married. The films Australian setting distinguishes it as Australian, as well as the use of an Australian heroine (something Gillian Armstrong was adamant about.)

 

The medium-sized nature of Australia’s cinema is usually evident in a film’s budget, usually substantially less than a comparable Hollywood product.. However, the $18M budget for Oscar and Lucinda was unusual in that it was actually comparable to Hollywood period dramas. Screening at the same time were Wilde (1997) which cost US$10M and Wings of the Dove (1997) which cost US$15M.

 



[1]Ruthe Stein " 'Oscar and Lucinda' Not Quite a Sure Thing" San Francisco Chronicle 23 January 1998

<http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1998/01/23/DD46591.DTL>

[2] Rozen, Leah, "Oscar and Lucinda", People Weekly 19 January 1998, 18

[3] Schickel, Richard, "Love, faith, hope and other eccentricities", Time 22 December 1997, 81

[4] Gillian Armstrong, quoted in Phan, Aimee " 'Oscar and Lucinda’ portrays no ordinary love story" (21 January 1998)  <http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/db/issues/98/01.21/ae.oscar.html> (30 April 2003)

[5] Catriona Hughes (Chief Executive AFFC) quoted in Reid, Mary Anne More Long Shots: Australian Cinema Successes in the 90s (Sydney: AFC, 1999)

[6] Reid, Mary Anne 1999, More Long Shots: Australian Cinema Successes in the 90s, AFC, Sydney, AKCCMP, Brisbane: 28

[7] O'Regan, Tom (1996) Australian National Cinema Routledge, London at 199

[8] O'Regan, Tom (1996) Australian National Cinema Routledge, London at 49