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'Hollow Reed': Filled With Meaning

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 6, 1997

"Hollow Reed" rekindles a lost pleasure that the American film industry has all but ceded to television, to its shame and our loss. That is the domestic drama, the painful rend between family loyalty and individual love, the wretched ambiguities between parents and children and between warring spouses.

Of course "Hollow Reed" is British; it couldnít be made in America, not without slobbering sentimentality, industrially injected glycerin, 50 rewrites and a final bitter gulf between star and director. "Hollow Reed" manages to be quietly efficient with none of the above.

Set in the prosperous suburbs of a small hinterlands city, it takes off from the de rigueur fractured family. Dr. Martyn Wyatt (Martin Donovan) has left his wife and son for a new life, trailing a wake of bitterness and loathing. The wrinkle: Heís left not for a new woman but for a new man. Heís homosexual and now lives downtown with his lover Tom (Ian Hart, of "Land and Freedom" and "Backbeat"). Meanwhile his wife Hannah (Joely Richardson) has taken up with a pendulum swing as far to the other side as she can manage: a macho construction engineer named Frank (Jason Flemyng). No doubt about his sexuality. But there are doubts about his mental health. Heís a chronic secret bully, who canít stop abusing the son Oliver (Sam Bould), who in turn is so frightened -- not merely by the pain but the immensity of the grown manís rage directed at his fragile sense of self -- that he cannot utter a word of protest.

Thatís the crux of the drama -- Martynís attempts to first solve the mystery of his sonís bruising, then his efforts, legal and extra-legal, to remove the boy from the household, in the face of prejudice and anger. But the director, Angela Pope, and the writer, Paula Milne, donít consign these people to the American zone of melodramatic simplification where their pathologies are their personalities. Instead, each is resolved in that gray blur of honesty: humans who may lack grace but are somehow -- even the child-beater -- not pure states, like "evil" or "good."

Best of all, the film is swiftly paced, and completely gripping.

HOLLOW REED (unrated) ó Conains profanity, violence, sex and cruelty to children.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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