The Governess

Like Jane Campion’s The Piano, this 1998 first feature by writer-director Sandra Goldbacher is less a story about the 19th century than a fantasy about it, and as such even more erotic. The singular Minnie Driver plays a stagestruck Sephardic Jew in London in the 1840s. After her father is murdered she has to support her surviving family and, concealing her Jewish identity, secures a job as a governess on a remote Scottish island. The man of the house (Tom Wilkinson) is an inventor experimenting with photography, and after serving as his lab assistant she becomes romantically involved with him, though she’s also pursued by his troubled adolescent son (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Goldbacher’s story is not always convincing as history, but it’s absorbing as a sort of gothic romance and sensually quite potent, and Driver carries it all with grace and authority. With Florence Hoath, Harriet Walter, and Bruce Myers. 112 min. (JR)

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