By Karen Butler
THE LAST SEPTEMBER, directed by Deborah Warner. Starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon and Fiona Shaw.
It’s not always easy for a theater director to successfully make the leap from stage to screen, but Deborah Warner did just that with her first feature film — an adaptation of the Elizabeth Bowen novel “The Last September.”
For her first time out, Warner wisely filled her cast with film and stage veterans Maggie Smith (“Tea with Mussolini,” “The First Wives Club”), Michael Gambon (“Dancing at Lughnasa,” “Sleepy Hollow”), and Fiona Shaw (“The Butcher Boy”) — all of whom turn in outstanding performances as a group of Anglo-Irish aristocrats in County Cork circa 1920.
In addition to having some of the world’s finest actors tell a unique story, Warner has made a sumptuous film that is spectacular to look at. Clearly influenced by Bowen’s masterly ability to capture a place and time on the page, the British director fills the screen with colors and details that most likely would have made the author proud.
“The Last September” focuses on events in the lives of the Naylors, wealthy heirs of English immigrants living in Ireland, whose way of life is coming to an end as the war for Irish independence escalates around them.
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It’s fascinating to watch how the Naylors and their friends continue to enjoy their garden parties and tennis games as the Irish are fighting and dying for their freedom, and British rule in Ireland is beginning its demise, leading to the extinction of the Anglo-Irish lifestyle. The film is not preachy, however, and really isn’t about the politics of the time. The drama is more of a touching coming-of-age story.
Nineteen-year-old Lois (Keeley Hawes) is a young woman who dreams of love and an exciting life outside of provincial Ireland but still lives with her supportive uncle, Sir Richard (Gambon) and disapproving aunt, Lady Myra (Smith. She is being courted by a British Army captain (David Tennant) who is deeply in love with her but who cannot afford to give her the life of adventure she seeks. As she is trying to decide what to do, two provocative figures enter her life — Marda (Fiona Shaw), an Anglo-Irish woman in her 30s who has lived most of her life in England, and Peter (Gary Lyndon) a violent Irish freedom fighter who is hiding on the estate where Lois and the Naylors live.
Complications ensue as Lois grapples with the concepts of what it means to be English versus what it means to be Irish. On one hand, her English suitor is dull but offers her a life of security. On the other, Lois is fascinated by the wild nature of her Irish childhood friend. She finally comes to realize that she can relate to neither nationality, since she is neither English nor Irish. She is Anglo-Irish, a hybrid of the two cultures and a member of a tribe that is on the wane in Ireland.
To read an interview with actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner regarding their film, “The Last September,” click here