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Ismail Merchant and James Ivory have produced numerous films, since they starting working together in the 1960s, including A Room With a View and Howard's End. The partnership finally came to a close last year during the production of their latest film, The White Countess, when Ismail Merchant passed away. The White Countesssees the duo, team up once more with Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. His book, The Remains of the Day was adapted for Merchant Ivory in 1993 by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, but this time, Ishiguro adapts his own novel. The White Countess is set in 1936, Shanghai, on the brink of the Japanese invasion of Eastern China. Russian Countess, Sofia (Natasha Richardson) works as a bar girl to support her family, their circumstances heavily reduced because of the Bolshevik Revolution. Her family lives in squalid conditions and includes her Aunt Sara and Uncle Peter (Vanessa Redrave and John Wood) and her mother and sister-in-law, (Lynn Redgrave and Madelaine Potter). Her in-laws are appalled by what Sofia does for work, although they continue to be happy to accept her money. One night Sofia meets Jackson (Ralph Fiennes), a blind diplomat at the club where she works. She saves him from a couple of thugs plotting to steal his money, and they make a connection. Although distraught over the loss of his family, Jackson dreams of opening the perfect nightclub and when he raises the money, he hires Sofia to be the hostess at The White Countess. The nightclub buffers Jackson from the growing political mayhem outside, but inside - he can't stop falling deeply in love with Sofia. Meanwhile, Sofia battles with her own feelings for Jackson, and struggles to stop her young daughter from being turned against her by her in-laws. The White Countess, like most Merchant Ivory films, contains beautiful costumes, an impeccable eye for detail and lovely cinematography - from Australia's own Chris Doyle. If anything, you can enjoy the film on this level. But I wasn't expecting it to be so humourless. The director and producer's melodramas like A Room With A View or Howard's End, may not be to everyone's taste, but at least they had some spark. This film is too heavy and convoluted. Ralph Fiennes produces a particularly unsteady performance as well, speaking every sentence with a kind of frustrating, stilted bewilderment. It doesn't help that his dialogue seems like it was written purely for the purpose of exposition, so that Jackson can explain the overly confusing plot to the audience. It's especially noticeable with his character's friendship with a Japanese visitor, who we later discover, is the man responsible for the downfall of Shanghai, Mr Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada). His conversations with Mr Matsuda revolve around the perfect ingredients for a nightclub and their interactions are incredibly unlikely. The themes in The White Countess aren't bad - political intrigue, the jazz era, class distinctions, but all in all, James Ivory can't control the unwieldy script, in what is an unimaginative adaptation by Kazuo Ishiguro of his own novel. I suspect that Ishiguro was so passionate about his story and his characters, he would have found it difficult to let elements go, which would have made the screenplay more effective. Perhaps he should have, like with The Remains Of The Day, allowed his words to be translated by someone else.