Effie Gray is another period drama examining the stuffy social etiquettes and gender roles of the Victorian Era, based on the real-life events of Euphemia “Effie” Gray.
Gray was a young woman involved in a scandalous love triangle. She was one of the first women in history to divorce from her husband, yet Effie Gray manages to make it seem like another ‘damsel in distress’ tale.
At age 19, Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning) marries the older John Ruskin (Greg Wise), a highly regarded art critic with celebrity status. Ruskin refuses to consummate the marriage despite Effie’s advances and subtle hints. With a father-daughter dynamic between the two, the stress of not feeling adequate enough as a wife, and the constant neglect affects Effie’s health significantly.
Ruskin’s parents are a catalyst to Effie’s stress, concerned only with building their son’s reputation as an esteemed writer and art critic; and belittling Effie with her inability to conform to the lifestyle she married into. When John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) is commissioned to paint John Ruskin’s portrait, he and Effie begin a secret love affair.
Written by award winner Emma Thompson and directed by Richard Laxton, expect a drawn out montage of John Ruskin’s behaviour as a neglectful husband and the effect on Effie. Wise is able to encapsulate a pompous intellectual and his performance allows the audience to empathise with the neglect that Effie feels. Fanning seems out of place, even uncomfortable, giving a stilted performance with little onscreen chemistry. Fanning and Sturridge seem particularly awkward, making it unbelievable that they are supposed to be in love with each other.
An important driver of the film is Elizabeth Eastlake (played by Thompson) who takes Effie under her wing, acting as her confidant and supporter for Effie’s divorce. It is hinted that Lady Eastlake has a high status, but it is never explained how or why (the real life Lady Eastlake was an author, art critic and art historian, and the first woman to write for the Quarterly Review- roles that were socially unacceptable for women to hold at that time).
It would be wise to do some background research on the true story of Effie Gray as the film ends at a point where a lot of questions go unanswered. This could have been a powerful and engaging movie, but instead it plods along as a listless story about a timid young woman who wants to be loved.
Reviewed by Adriana Allman
Rating out of 10: 4
Effie Gray is out now on DVD and Digital.