Christopher Hampton’s Carrington (1995)—a biographical drama about painter Dora Carrington and writer Lytton Strachey—is one of those pretty terrific movies that has somehow just fallen by the wayside in our collective cinematic consciousness. It may never have been that much in our consciousness in the first place. As the first directorial effort of screenwriter Hampton, it might have been expected to lead to many more films in a worthy new direction, but Hampton has made only two little-seen films since then.
Carrington‘s pedigree is excellent with its two classy stars, Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, its Michael Nyman score and its fascinating true-life story of the odd love affair between a heterosexual painter and a homosexual writer. It’s also just plain good filmmaking and solidly entertaining—sometimes even very funny, even going as far as playing with movie conventions. (Strachey and Carrington get a variation on “meeting cute” when he mistakes her for a boy, much to his subsequent disappointment.)
Written with great wit and elegance and directed with the same, Carrington charts the improbable course of this unusual couple, from their first awkward encounter through their growing fascination with each other and on to their unorthodox, yet strangely understandable relationship. The film delights in its own casual outrageousness in a way that perfectly fits the characters; something profound and deeply human always lies just beneath the surface of that outrageousness and the clever remarks the characters attempt to hide behind. There’s a genuine passion beneath it all that is allowed to peep through at just the precise moment—as when Strachey observes a group of wealthy buffoons inanely cavorting in the midst of WWI and remarks, “God damn, blast, confound and f**k the upper classes.” But at bottom, the film is a love story—just not your usual one. Any self-respecting cineaste needs to see this film. It’s a wonderful story with wonderful characters and, as Strachey says at one point in the film, “Anything more cinematographic could scarcely be imagined.”