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Swann

Director: Anna Benson Gyles


A faithful and insightful adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields’ novel, Swann explores literary and feminist issues through the intrigue surrounding a Canadian poet from rural Ontario who was brutally killed by her husband. Mary Swann was a seemingly unsophisticated woman whose strange poems and violent death attract the attention of best-selling author Sarah Maloney (Miranda Richardson), who sets out to complete a biography before a rival tome by an academic reaches the bookshelves. The woman knows most about Mary Swann’s life and work is Rose Handmarch (Brenda Fricker), the local librarian who’s flustered by the sudden interest from the outside world. This search for the truth about the poet is fltered through the very different lives of Sarah and Rose, who slowly come to establish a friendship and a sense of complicity inspired by their mutual understanding of the real significance of Mary Swann.
The film pokes fun at the literary world as represented by the business of commercial publishing (ironically, Sarah’s obnoxious boyfriend makes money from shredding remaindered books) and the staid academics with their pet theories. What Mary Swann had to say is lost in these approaches, and it’s left to Sarah and Rose to discover the very real pain and anguish behind words scrawled on scraps of paper. This theme is subtly developed throughout the film, both in the developing relationship between the two women and the ghostly presence of the poet.
Anna Benson Gyles’ understated direction (she has a background in T.V. biographies) is well suited to the material, and her restraint is rewarded by outstanding performances from Richardson and Fricker. In a very enthusiastic Sight and Sound review, critic Philip Kemp described Swann as a gripping, affecting, deeply-felt film, wittily and compassionately scripted and superbly acted.

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