Frank and Cathy (Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore) are the perfect 1950s couple: he’s a successful businessman; she’s a beautiful, impeccable hostess with a flawless home, two well-behaved children, and a loyal housekeeper. The facade cracks when Cathy catches Frank kissing another man—and then finds solace in the sympathetic companionship of her gardener, a courteous, intelligent man who happens to be black. This movie is an homage to the Douglas Sirk dramas of the 1950s, right down to the typeface over the opening credits and the swelling Elmer Bernstein score, and it’s a dead-serious “women’s film” melodrama. Gloved hands, cocktails before dinner, crinoline skirts, and the ubiquity of casual prejudice—director Todd Haynes’s film is almost a deliberate attempt to make the nervy movie about the failure of middle-class surfaces that audiences should’ve had the chance to see in 1956, but that the studios were too timid to make.
Adapted from the Graham Greene novel and filmed by Neil Jordan with all the intelligence that work requires, this is all about wartime love (between married woman Julianne Moore and family friend Ralph Fiennes) as a defiance of—and, finally, a bloody deal made with—a hard-bargaining God. One of the best British films of the 1990s, and predictably underappreciated.