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This revisionist adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 vampire novella joins Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and Lady Macbeth in the newish tradition of bonnet-free literary adaptations: modern-feeling period films abandoning coy glances for earthy passions and marriage fantasy fulfilment for a harsher portrait of domestic life for women in the past. Le Fanu’s book was the inspiration for Dracula’s harloty wives in the 70s Hammer films, but with a new-school feminist spin writer-director Emily Harris strips away the vampirism to focus on sexuality and repression. It’s a smart move, but her creepily atmospheric film is let down by some awkward dialogue and a weirdly bloodless lack of intimacy.
Hannah Rae plays Lara, a dreamy teenager living in the countryside in northern England with her father (Greg Wise), a kindly man but not exactly a hands-on parent. Lara is mostly cared for by her governess, stern disciplinarian Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), whose lip curl of pleasure when she canes Lara suggests hidden passions. There is a creeping sense of tension in these exchanges as Lara tests boundaries – though I did find the see-sawing dialogue, between stiff formal period and modern, a bit distracting in places.
When a carriage crashes nearby, the sole survivor is a beautiful girl Lara’s age, Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau), who is brought to the house seemingly suffering from amnesia. After taking such pains to keep Lara pure and pliant, has the family let a serpent in? Carmilla is certainly a match for Miss Fontaine, minxily challenging her authority. As the two girls become passionately close, Lara gets pale and tired-looking. Meanwhile, other girls in the county are mysteriously falling ill. It’s an intriguing set up, the idea of Carmilla vampirically draining Lara, and Harris’s script cleverly moulds Le Fanu’s text into a story of oppression and isolation. But the chemistry between Rae and Lingnau isn’t given the time to power up, making this a romance with barely a crackle of erotic charge.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Carmilla review – clever but bloodless spin on classic female-vampire yarn | Film