Wednesday, June 24, 1998

The Land Girls

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 1998 at 12:00 AM

One would think that after The English Patient, there would be little point in another "love in a dangerous time" picture about World War II. The road from Rick's Cafe to a bombed-out Tuscan villa seemed pretty well traveled.

Not quite. Here we have that most welcome of diversions, a quiet summer picture, from none other than David Leland, responsible for the dark magic of Mona Lisa and the proto-girl power ditty, Wish You Were Here, about a headstrong, teenage lass who discovers the power of panties in post-World War II Britain.

Adapted from the novel by Angela Huth, The Land Girls tells of three young ladies sent to work the fields of Dorcet for the war effort. Each one comes equipped with particular baggage. Stella (Catherine McCormack) is the quiet daughter of a bank manager. Prue (Anna Friel), all working-class braggadocio and libido, has been dragged away from her beauty salon. And Ag (Rachel Weisz) is an Oxbridge square worried about her virginity and her career in that order. They're assigned to a farm, joylessly run by hotheaded Mr. Lawrence, much to the chagrin of his wife and son, Joe (Steven Mackintosh).

The first half of the film threatens at times to turn into a more subdued version of Belle Epoque, the Spanish confection about four beautiful daughters each having their way with a farmhand just before the civil war. Indeed, the Land Girls all take their turns with the willing Joe, who wants nothing more than to get off the farm by joining up with the RAF. But as the war makes its presence known, the sun goes in behind the clouds and complications come out to spoil the fun.

Since this is a revisionist bucolic, Leland purposefully avoids the emotional extremes of melodrama but, in doing so, also creates a strangely detached mood. We are clearly looking back with knowing eyes.

Still, tears come easily in the requisite bittersweet epilogue when our ladies discover that not only was war hell, but peace is no piece of cake either. Second best is sometimes good enough when the deck is stacked against love and friendship. A bracing little film well worth enjoying.

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