Gillian Armstrong directs this quirky period romance that shines with good performances, but could have been tightened up to be a bit more effective.
Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes) is the timid son of a rigid puritanical father. Oscar casts his lot in life (literally), and studies to become an Anglican priest. He has two critical weaknesses, however. The first is a deathly fear of the water (which he associates with his mother’s death). The second is an uncontrollable love of gambling.
It is this second interest which sparks an attraction with Ludinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett). Raised in the wilds of Australia, Lucinda is surprised to find herself a very wealthy woman. She successfully gambles her fortune by starting a series of glasswork factories.
The two meet aboard a ship bound for Australia from England. Their penchant for gambling tosses them together, but they soon discover they are kindred souls.
The biggest problem with Oscar and Lucinda is its slow-moving pace. It is positively languid. None of the characters have immediacy, and as a result, even the film’s most moving moments lose their poignancy. There are some spots toward the end of the film that could have been very powerful…but that effect is blunted by the distance the audience has gone since then.
The performances throughout Oscar and Lucinda are well done. Ralph Fiennes delivers a good performance as the gambling priest, but considering his exceptional body of work, it is his weakest appearance. Cate Blanchett is intriguing in her role as the headstrong Lucinda, and the two of them make an appealing couple when together.
The cinematography in Oscar and Lucinda is appropriately pretty. The film creates some interesting images, mostly when it is following its motifs of glass and water. However, even with a prominent outdoor trek, the film never quite generates any stunningly beautiful scenes.
And that seems to sum up the good and the bad with the film. It is enjoyable, but there’s always a feeling that there could have been more. The end result is not completely satisfing.