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‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991

In "Truly, Madly, Deeply," comparisons with "Ghost" are inevitable. After all, the movie is about a bereaved woman whose companion returns from the dead.

But this British production, starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman, takes a wide berth around the kind of button-pushing found in "Ghost." It presses with lighter fingers.

Since cellist Rickman's recent death, Stevenson has been living alone. But, as she tells her psychiatrist, Rickman has never left her side. She feels his protective presence constantly. He sings; he tells her to walk in the middle of the street at night. For some reason, he seems to have picked up a little Spanish. His accent, she says, is terrible.

The permanently distracted Stevenson barely functions at the office, despite friendly proddings from boss Bill Paterson and smitten builder Christopher Rozycki. When Rickman actually appears before her one day, a strange chapter in her life begins. For a short, blissful time, they become romantic fugitives from reality.

Stevenson, who was one of the three murderous wives in Peter Greenaway's wry "Drowning by Numbers," is refreshingly understated. She modulates effortlessly between pleasant normalcy and driving obsession. She makes her high points count. At the shrink's office, her tearful outbursts are not the picturesque snivelings of a movie star. She's a real character, having a good bawl and blowing a dripping nose.

Rickman gives a wonderfully sleepy performance. The afterlife has left him tired and pale. His speech is slow, his lips are cold and he blames the government for just about everything.

"It was like standing behind a glass wall," he says of his demise, "while everybody got on with missing me."

Writer and director Anthony Minghella blends in the supernatural without special effects. When a lonely Stevenso

n tinkles on the piano, the camera wheels around to see Rickman quietly accompanying her on the cello. There are some very amusing ghosts that Rickman invites over to watch videos.

" 'Five Easy Pieces,' " says one dead soul, "or 'Fitzcarraldo'?"

"I don't know these people," Stevenson complains. "I don't even know what period they're from."

It's the beginning of a winter of romantic discontent. Stevenson is going to have to choose between Rickman and new suitor Michael Maloney (the biggest flaw in the movie -- he's unbearably endearing). While the inevitable conclusion may not have "Ghost's" three-hankie factor, it's a sweetly affecting tug of the heart.

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