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"Effie Gray": Dakota Fanning stars in Emma Thompson's Victorian-era take on love and angst 

Wednesday, Apr 1 2015
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The Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin has been popping up in movies a lot lately. He was a character in Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, and now he's the antagonist in Richard Laxton's lushly photographedEffie Gray. Ruskin (Greg Wise) marries young Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning), and promptly sets about ignoring her. He's not outwardly abusive, but distant and neglectful, refusing to engage with her on any level, even on their wedding night, leaving Effie confused and struggling to find her role in the world — and for possible means of escape at a time when divorce was not a thing, especially for women. As Effie Gray's screenwriter and a prominent feminist herself, Emma Thompson shows remarkable restraint in making her character of Lady Eastlake, essentially an extended cameo, be faithful to the time period. Eastlake acts as a mentor to Effie, but her lessons are not of anachronistic girl-power, but rather to deal with it and do what's expected of her. Similarly, the distributor's synopsis references gay marriage, implying a queer undercurrent to the film; however, Effie is never portrayed liking girls, and for as much as he finds girls icky, there's no indication that Ruskin is into boys. That's fine, because Effie Gray is powerful enough on its own merits.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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