The Governess is a romantic drama that’s like an overripe peach. It has a strong core, but a soft, mushy outside.
Minnie Driver stars as Rosina da Silva, a devout Jewish girl in 19th century London. After her beloved father passes away, she is forced to take a job to support her family. However, there aren’t many lucrative job opportunities for Sephardic Jews, so Rosina poses as a gentile named Mary Blackchurch in order to take a job as governess on the remote Isle of Skye.
There, she is hired by the Cavendish family to look after the devilish Clementina (Florence Hoath). The head of the Cavendish family, Charles (Tom Wilkinson), is a reclusive inventor who is fascinated by the new science of photography.
Despite the amorous advances of Charles’ son Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Rosina finds herself attracted to Charles, himself. Will Charles return her affections, or will he remain devoted to his wife (Harriet Walter)?
The heart of this unconventional love story is pinned together by Driver and Wilkinson. The whole thing depends on convincing performances by the two leads, and they successfully carry it off. Driver displays a degree of eroticism heretofore undiscovered in her works. And Wilkinson is able to make us understand why a young woman would be attracted to this older man, with a performance bristling with perception and intelligence.
It’s too bad the rest of the film isn’t as strong as their relationship. The Governess’ multiple subplots are awkwardly set up. You can spot the “miraculous” photography breakthrough from several miles away, and one never gets a sense of what the Henry-Rosina relationship is ever trying to accomplish.
Worth seeing on the basis of its central romance, The Governess is never able to get much beyond that core relationship. It’s aimless at points, but has a good heart…and after all, that’s what’s most important in a romantic drama.