Effie Gray

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Effie Gray Movie Poster Image
Slow-moving period film makes intriguing tale uninteresting.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 108 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Even in Victorian England, a woman can learn to stand up for herself and doesn't have to settle for a life of emotional abuse from a cruel and neglectful husband.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Effie starts the film as a naive young newlywed whose own identity is closely tied to that of her new husband, a well-regarded writer. But eventually she's able to create her own sense of self and seek out what will make her happy.

Violence

A woman is groped and nearly assaulted, and she must flee through a succession of dark and isolated alleys. A husband and wife use cruel words to each other during arguments.

Sex

Movie revolves around a young woman in a loveless, sexless marriage. Several discussions about the lack of physical intimacy in their relationship, albeit in the genteel, circumspect conversational patterns of the time. One scene shows Effie undressing; viewers see her nightgown falling to the floor. A nude man is later seen from behind, from a distance.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking at dinner parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Effie Gray is a period drama set in Victorian England that examines the real-life marriage between acclaimed art critic John Ruskin and his young bride, Effie (Dakota Fanning). Their relationship is deeply unhappy, and as he grows more distant and cruel, she starts looking for an escape. There's some drinking and several oblique discussions about the couple's lack of physical intimacy; scenes show Effie undressing (viewers see her nightgown falling to the floor) and a man's naked behind, from a distance. She's nearly assaulted in one scene and must flee through dark alleys. Some of the language may seem stilted, but the film could provoke discussion between parents and teens about what makes for a good union.

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What's the story?

EFFIE GRAY (Dakota Fanning) is excited to be wed to wealthy, successful writer John Ruskin (Greg Wise) -- but she quickly realizes her hopes are misplaced in this biopic based on a true story. Ruskin is cold and cruel and will barely look at her, much less show her any kind of affection, and his overprotective parents are equally opaque. But in Victorian England, women have few options, and while Effie eventually begins to fall in love with a young painter (Tom Sturridge), they both know that the social mores of the day mean they can never be together.

Is it any good?

This drama is a slow and arduous watch. Effie Gray, the historical figure, is a real-life tragic character with a feel-good ending. (Spoiler alert: She eventually worked up the nerve to leave her spouse, with whom she lived with unhappily.) But Effie Gray, the film, starts with what could have been a classic love triangle tale but instead becomes an uninspired, laboriously told one. We feel for her -- it's difficult not to empathize when her husband is such an awful beast -- but we get so little insight into why he is the way he is that we stop caring why.

It doesn't help that this period drama looks perpetually dismal and dark. Though they perhaps echo the subject material, the drab, underlit interior shots and dreary exterior scenes -- especially during an extended sojourn in Scotland -- fail to make the heart quicken as it should. There's just no light in this movie, no joy. Fanning does a fine job of portraying a woman who's beaten down and then learns to stand up, and Emma Thompson lights up the screen in a small role as Effie's sole ally, but the two acresses aren't enough to make Effie Gray watchable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Effie Gray portrays marriage. Do you think a union like Effie and Ruskin's could happen today? Why was he repelled by the idea of physical intimacy?

  • What options would a modern woman have in similar circumstances that weren't available in the mid-1800s? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

Movie details

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