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Laramie Movie Scope:
Oscar and Lucinda

Dramatic romance of a wager and a woman

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1997) Aboard the Leviathan in a first-class stateroom, Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett), owner of the Prince Rupert Glassworks in Sydney, returning from London to Australia, chances to meet Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes), an Anglican clergyman and pathological gambler on his aleatory voyage down under as self-imposed penance (though he had his friend flip a coin for the decision whether or not to go) for his vile habit. From Laura Jones's screenplay, adapting Peter Carey's novel, Gillian Armstrong directed this dramatic romance of a wager and a woman.

Lucinda makes confession of her own compulsion with dice, fan-tan, poker, to which Oscar replies: "Where's the sin?... We bet. It is all in Pascal, you know. We bet that there is a God. We bet our life on itů. We gamble our mortal souls."

The narrator (Geoffrey Rush) tells the tale of his great-grandfather, raised in a village of Devon in England by his strict, anti-papist father, the leader of the Plymouth Brethren, whose mother's death left him with the sea having the smell of death, thus his phobia of the ocean.

At the same time in 1848, in New South Wales, Lucinda, an only child, "a square peg" among round holes, receives a Prince Rupert drop as a birthday present. Nine years later she invests the inheritance her mother has left her in the glassworks that manufactured the bauble and seeks the advice of Rev Dennis Hasset (Ciaran Hinds), applying his theories of vitrescible compounds from his hyaline hobby to create an enormously successful enterprise.

Asking God for a sign, Oscar interprets a calling to the Anglican faith, from which he presents himself to Rev Hugh Stratton (Tom Wilkinson), who coaches the boy before sending him to Oxford, where Wardley-Fish, a fellow student and roommate, introduces Oscar to "a flutter" - a bet on horse races. It's an answer to Oscar's prayer to God for funds.

Eschewing all finery and luxury, giving away to the poor all but what he needs to live frugally, looking like a scarecrow in second-hand clothes, as he's departing in third-class accommodations (where he won't have to look at the sea), Oscar's beseeched by Rev Stratton for the secret to his system.

Soon after her return to Sydney, Lucinda loses her confidante, Rev Hasset, when the bishop transfers him (she suspects because of his association with her) to Bellingen Town on the Bellinger River, a place of mud and taverns far to the north in which he must conduct Sunday services in rooms behind a blacksmith. There he's pursued by Miriam Chadwick (Josephine Byrnes), an attractive, twice-widowed schoolteacher.

Meanwhile, Oscar's residence in Sydney is beside a racetrack; though he never gambles for personal gain, once his avocation is discovered, he's expelled as an ecclesiastic from the church. Lucinda makes a pact with Oscar to never gamble again in order for them to be friends without further temptation at games of chance.

Nevertheless, only five weeks later (aware of Lucinda's correspondence with Rev Hasset) struck by inspiration, Oscar proposes a project of self-sacrifice for an object of desire: making an arduous overland trek (though by sea would be much easier and safer) to Bellingen with a prefabricated church made of glass. "I wager you I can do it!" he says to Lucinda, who makes the stakes of their bet her inheritance against his paltry means.

With six rivers to cross and the "butchering habits of blacks," Mr Jeffries, who knows the boundaries, accepts Lucinda's offer of a sizeable bonus if he guides the expedition safely to its destination. Attended by loyal Percy (Bille Brown), Oscar, though treated with much disdain on the journey, grieves with guilt over his pride, his ignorance, his seduction, and his responsibility for the deaths of Aborigines (whites alone inflict violence) and others.

(The movie is rated R for what, religion? No obscene language & the one sex scene has the participants fully clothed, but a graphic, violent event of an ax splitting a skull caused me to wince.)

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)