Director: Jim McBride

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

This British mystery comes off as made-for-tv due to its weak cast & awkward script, but it apparently really was made for theatrical release. The only thing one gets from the film that wouldn't've been on a TV show is Kate Beckinale walking around her apartment with her tits out, & a butt-shot of her gypsy boyfriend.

Beckinale plays an art restorer who has discovered a mysterious message, "Who Killed the Knight?" painted over in a Dutch master painting of a Duke & a knighted diplomat playing chess, as a Duchess looks on. A centuries-old murder mystery is solved by the painting's riddles. Simultaneously, parallel murders are happening around the art restorer.

If the characters spoke & behaved in any manner even close to how human beings actually speak & behave, this might've been quite a good little mystery of the Masterpiece Theater type. But no character quite rings true, & the actors aren't good enough to sell such badly written lines. Thus there is a police inspector who doesn't seem to have any interest whatsoever in clues, a short tempered gigolo who comes off more like a rapist, the unpleasant heiress Lola who never shows any emotion but hostility except when throwing herself into the arms of our art restorer to weep crocodile tears for no conceivable reason, a sleezy businesswoman who gets screwed by a gallery owner because she high-rolls without any contract to protect her own interests. An actor with a strong Irish accent is cast as a gypsy who grew up a street urchin of Barcelona, introduced as an offensive dipshit but soon transformed into love interest for the art restorer who sure didn't take long getting over her grief for having found her prevoius lover dead.

Every character development is at least a half-inch shy of likely, & often so distant from possible that a viewer is left stunned by the scriptwriters utter inability to capture authentic conversation or emotional response.

The basic staging seems unlikely too. Is it likely that an art restorer would be working at home in her apartment on a five hundred year old painting worth millions while the whole cast comes & goes as it pleases, while sunlight streams in her apartment window on the five hundred year old art treasure? Would an art restorer really blow her cigarette smoke on the painting or give it a slobbery kiss, doubtless damaging it more than she's repairing it? When it's finally stolen it's scarsely a surprising plot turn; the only surprise is that some neighbor's dog hadn't already wandered in, knocked it over, & left a big dump on it, it was so just sitting out begging to be damaged or stolen.

All plot turns are simplistic, obvious, & telegraphed long in advance. I'd worked out the whole mystery to its end within the first ten minutes of the film, though I really hoped it wouldn't devolve into "the psycho homo did it" which was just too awfully devoid of freshness. The only things that couldn't be seen coming from a mile away were the plot bits that were totally irrational. Like, the motive for the murders was to arrange an inheritance for a specific person, only there was nothing to inherit except debts & that one painting the profits of which would go to debts. The murderer knew this as well as everyone else, so the scriptwriter hadn't even worked out the motive correctly.

Based on a book by the popular Spanish novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, the script has only a tangential relationship to the book, which can't be blamed for the film's numerous irrationalities & ineptitudes. The novel's Spanish setting was kept (moved from Madrid to Barcelona so that Gaudi architecture could be visually cited), but in casting a blond Irishman as a Spanish gypsy & making the whole cast British without even Spanish friends or side-characters, one wonders why they didn't bother to just move the story to London & get it over with.

I enjoyed it a bit for the medieval mystery component but it packed in nothing unexpected. The artworks trumped up for the film were very convincing, & some of the physical poses of the characters seem to have been arranged by the same art director or whoever made the physical objects in the film so interesting. It's only too bad it was impossible to care about any of the unlikely characters.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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