Sun, 07 Mar 1999

No sparks ignited by 'Firelight' despite Marceau's presence

JAKARTA (JP): Beauty is only skin deep... but oh how beautiful some of that skin is!

Sophie Marceau ranks right up there with the likes of Bridget Bardot, Catherine Deneauve and Isabelle Adjani as one of the most beautiful French actresses to grace the silver screen.

Her sensuous presence is enough to keep fans glued to their seats for any film she appears in.

Unfortunately, most of her English film performances still pale in comparison with those of her compatriots.

She became an international household name in Mel Gibson's Braveheart. But there it was her ability to ignite the screen with her brief presence, rather than any serious dramatic performance, which caught the eye.

In Firelight, even 90-minutes of Marceau's alluring beauty cannot salvage this mid-1800s period piece as one gigantic yawn.

Sure, most guys will still skip a couple of heartbeats with every closeup, but it is no heart stopper.

The story is a combination of a Charlotte Bronte-Jane Austen- Harlequin romance.

Under family pressure, British aristocrat Charles (Stephen Dillane), needs an heir to carry on the encrusted family name.

The only problem is his wife is severely ill and cannot bear him a child.

So what does he do? Offer 5,000 pounds to anyone willing to be a surrogate mother.

Along comes Elisabeth (Marceau), who applies for the "honorable" task in order to payoff her father's debts.

Who could refuse?! Elisabeth and Charles depart for three days to an isolated location to fulfill the contract.

Remember this is the mid-19th Century; there's no such thing as artificial insemination, so the couple have to do it the old fashioned way.

William Nicholson, in his directing debut, tries to ensure that those who only come to see Marceau get their money's worth, with a love scene illuminating by a flickering fire and much tossing and turning.

The lovemaking is neither memorable nor does it reach feverish heights. In her French film repertoire, Marceau has performed much more risqu scenes.

Not surprisingly after two nights Charles is reluctant to leave Elizabeth. But the two decide that they will honor their contract and part ways.

Nine months later, Elisabeth gives up her baby girl promising not to interfere in the child's life.

Of course Elisabeth does come back to haunt Charles and see her child.

She inveigles her way into the aristocratic life by applying for a post as the child's governess. When she finally meets her daughter, she is aghast to find the seven-year-old Louisa (Dominique Belcourt) a spoiled brat.

While the new governess proceeds to sort out her recalcitrant daughter, she avoids Charles' seductive glances.

Nothing in this film will excite audiences, not even the love scenes.

"Did you enjoy it?" Charles asks Elisabeth after their first coupling. "No," she replies.

Both Marceau and Dillane are unanimated in their roles. Marceau is her usually brooding self, failing to smile throughout the whole movie.

Viewers will likely sympathize with Charles, who honorably fights to curtail his desire for Elisabeth and remain faithful to his mute bed-stricken wife.

We can sympathize with his woes. Who can blame him with someone like Sophie Marceau floating about the place and the competition of other men in the film, also falling over themselves to woo her?

Overall this film could use a little bit more wood before it lights a fire in anyone's memory. (mds)