The End of the Affair
by Jason Morrison
The end of the affair. When will the affair ever end? When will the movie ever end?
The End of the Affair is a romance starring Ralph Fiennes about adultery and everlasting love in 1940s England. If you've ever seen a movie with Fiennes, ever seen an adulterous romance, or ever saw a film set in 1940's England, you should probably just skip this movie. You've already seen it.
Fiennes is Maurice Bendrix, a writer and friend of civil servant Henry Miles (Stephen Rea). When Maurice finds Henry wandering about in the cold rain, he stops and takes him home. Henry confides in him-he thinks his wife, Sarah (Julianne Moore), is cheating on him. He mentions hiring a private detective, then decides against it. But Maurice insists on it, and ultimately hires the detective himself.
You see, two years ago Maurice had an affair with Sarah. They had one of those love-at-first-sight moments films have a soft spot for. Henry came to a party at their house, saw Sarah, talked about the furniture and-bam! They're going at it like Romeo and Gwyneth Paltrow.
I have to pause here and say, once again, that romances have a terrible tendency to assume romance. Far too often, the characters just end up with a passion deeper than any ocean, etc., for no reason at all. What about developing it a bit? Maybe they see each other, are interested, start to see things in each other, begin flirting, and then, finally, it makes sense. I guess, though, that would only leave 15 minutes at the end for the tragic separation/demise.
Which is what occupies most of the plot. Though writer/director Neil Jordan is creative with the storytelling, giving you events from different perspectives and not revealing the entire puzzle all at once, it pretty much is as follows: Maurice has Sarah trailed by a Mr. Parkis (Ian Hart) and his son Lance (Sam Bould). Meanwhile she calls him, the two former lovers meet, and he spurns her. The investigators turn up evidence she's seeing another man, while he remembers how the affair ended. They were given a lot of time together by the war, Henry spending all his time with civil defense. But Maurice could not overcome his jealousy, wishing Sarah was his forever. And though she says she loves him, even when they're not together, he's unsatisfied.
When he's hit by the shockwave of an exploding shell, he comes to and finds her praying. She leaves, forever, and he assumes she's finally bored with his jealousy, just as she was bored with Maurice's habits.
Henry ends up confronting Maurice, and he admits to the affair. But then Maurice is given Sarah's diary. Things are not as he thought, and he runs after her.
I don't want to give it all away, but I bet you think it ends with the two getting together, running away from Henry, and living happily ever after. Nope. And it doesn't end with the horrible tragedy, either. And it doesn't end with Henry and Maurice coming to an understanding of sorts. It just keeps not ending.
Dragged out ending aside, this film's real flaw is how obvious everything is. You can pretty much figure everything out before it happens, or at least nothing really surprises. And Fiennes is fine, though his presence makes comparison with "English Patient" too obvious to ignore. And this film does not have the breathtaking beauty of English Patient, not by a long shot.
Moore is fine too. She's also naked a lot, which was nice to see but again, too many movies substitute nudity for love. More than once this movie would have been a soft core porn if it weren't for the classical music and British accents. Rea is fine as well, though his part was a little more challenging and he was very subtle with it. The real treat, actually, was Hart. He wasn't a protagonist, but he was personable, funny, and did a great job with the awkwardness of economic class self-consciousness.
All in all, this is a perfectly harmless romance, though even a superfluous argument with god can't save it from being too run-of-the-mill for me.
(Out of five)