The White Countess (PG)

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The Independent Culture

The final Merchant Ivory collaboration carries a suitably elegiac air, though nothing about this tale of émigrés meeting in 1930s Shanghai will cause intense regret at their leave-taking. Ralph Fiennes plays a blind American ex-diplomat who engages a down-at-heel Russian aristo (Natasha Richardson) as the hostess of his swanky nightclub, oblivious of the Japanese war machine gearing up in the background.

While ravishingly photographed by Christopher Doyle, this fails on almost every level to convince; it supposedly concerns the pain of bereavement and exile, yet it feels no more authentic than Richardson's R-r-r-ussian accent. As with so much Merchant Ivory, it is respectable, decent and more enervating than an elephant tranquilliser.

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