Alex isn't sure if CHERI offers up anything more than a run of the mill costume drama

Let€™s not beat about the bush here: generally speaking, costume dramas tend to be boring and pretentious affairs which cater to the fantasies of wannabe sophisticates. One shining exception to this rule of thumb is Dangerous Liaisons, director Stephen Frears€™ mischievous and engrossing portrayal of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats. Frears is back in cinema's with Chéri, another lavishly designed period piece set in France. cheri19 Genre and setting are not the only elements fuelling the inevitable comparisons between the two movies. Chéri features Liaisons writer Christopher Hampton and star Michelle Pfeiffer. Both movies are based on French novels. And each of them takes place in a period of €œcalm before the storm€ in French history - in the case of Chéri, the Belle ‰poque era which preceded the First World War. Yet in spite of all their similarities the two films are very different animals. In contrast to Liaisons, which boasted a carefully plotted script, Chéri is more of a phychological study. The titular character (played by Rupert Friend) is the spoilt son of Madame Poloux (Kathy Bates), a retired courtesan. In order to steer her son away from boredom and decay she sends him away for a bit of sentimental education with her cordial enemy and fellow courtesan Lea de Lonval (Pfeiffer). After spending six years learning about the ways of the world with the ageing Lea, Chéri€™s mother marries him off to yet another courtesan€™s daughter. This is the cue for the two protagonists to realise that they love each other. The tone in which the tale is told is also very different from that of Liaisons, which dealt in gleeful naughtiness that goes spectacularly wrong. Chéri, on the other hand, casts a mocking eye on a frivolous world but gradually turns quietly melancholic as Lea and Chéri begin to understand the true difficulties facing their relationship. The elephant in the room is Lea€™s age, and the film ponders what it means for a beautiful woman to grow old. This is pretty standard stuff for a romantic drama and the film never really tries to lift itself above the tried and tested conventions of the genre. More importantly, Chéri€™s characters never fascinate the audience the way John Malkovich and Glen Close€™s rivalry in Liaisons did. Lea is by far the most interesting character and Pfeiffer plays her with great honesty, unafraid to parade her crow€™s feet in order to get the point across. The problem is that her Lea is in love with Chéri, an unsympathetic, moronic and almost repulsive character, who is played just a bit too convincingly for comfort by Rupert Friend. Kathy Bates, for her part, is spectacularly miscast as Madame Poloux. Come on, even in her prime who would have paid large sums of money to sleep with Annie Wilkes from Misery? The film is of course impeccably made and its eye for detail and sense of rhythm are commendable. Unfortunately, in the end it just feels too much like a run of the mill costume drama.

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