"A Handful of Dust," (1988), based on Evelyn Waugh's famous novel by the same name,A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics), a jazz-age satire, was made by London Weekend Television, which invested in an unusually strong cast for a television movie. Perhaps as a result of this, the film received theatrical distribution, by Miramax, in the United States. The film stars James Wilby(Island at War) as Tony Last, so involved in trying to live a nineteenth century lifestyle, and keep his estate Hettam afloat, that he fatally fails to notice his wife Brenda is bored silly.(Kristin Scott Thomas, Four Weddings & A Funeral , The English Patient) Rupert Graves (Where Angels Fear To Tread ) appears as John Beaver, penniless irresponsible playboy, (he's what they used to call a bounder); Brenda mistakenly turns to him for solace and fun. (And, of course, by doing so, she gives London's bored silly smart set something to gossip about.) Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love )plays Mrs. Beaver, John's opportunistic, shop-owning mother. Anjelica Huston (Addams Family Values)appears as the helpful Mrs. Rattery; Stephen Fry (Jeeves and Wooster - The Complete Collection (Digitally Remastered)) as Brenda's callous brother. Alec Guinness (STAR WARS) turns in a bravura performance as Mr. Todd, a man you don't want ever to meet. But it can truthfully be said that each of the actors makes the most of his/her part. The movie is beautifully filmed on location, in Brighton, East Sussex, and London, England. Carlton Towers, Selby, in the north of England, North Yorkshire to be precise, stands in for Hettam. "Dust" then moves on to what's supposed to be the Brazilian jungle, though it's actually filmed in Venezuela, around Angel Falls, the world's third highest. (Of course, we're to understand that this jungle is only slightly more bloodthirsty than that of London society.) As is fairly well-known, movie and book are based, in part, on the breakup of Waugh's first marriage, and Waugh surely gets the last word on that (although the understanding is that Brenda's supposed to be stupid, as well as selfish, and Scott-Thomas is too smart, and observant, to be able to play stupid). Waugh then, it's said, was at a loss as to how to finish this work, so he combined it with a previously- published short story set in the Brazilian jungle: because of legalities, he was actually unable to use this ending when the book was published in the States, and had to come up with another. "Dust" is handsomely filmed, and costumed, its cars and interiors are a treat, and it's got its author's flashes of mordant wit. The acting can't be faulted. But it's ultimately a downer, as is Waugh's book. He was known to say that he did not believe fate concerned itself with keeping people happy. So, these characters give us little to admire, and sure won't live happily ever after.
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