Ralph Fiennes is probably the only man in the world who could express his jealousy for a woman's stocking--while putting it on her, no less--without either nauseating or cracking up an audience. But then to express his envy for the snap on her World War II-era garter belt and thence her shoe . . . well, what can we say but "Ralph, oh Ralph, don't stop now!"

Fiennes, who broods like no other actor, demonstrates his best bedside manner opposite Julianne Moore--no slouch herself, mind you--in Neil Jordan's rain-soaked adaptation of Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair." While Greene's autobiographical story is showing its age, it's no mustier than recent romantic tripe like "The Bridges of Madison County." (The memory of Clint Eastwood pulling Meryl Streep into her pantyhose haunts me to this day. But I digress.)

Now where were we? Oh yes. The year is 1939, England is at war and all the rules have changed as they are wont to do when tomorrow may never come. Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes), a brooding novelist, is irresistibly drawn to Sarah (Moore), the glowing wife of Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), a dull but worthy civil servant kept busy fighting the war on the home front. The two are soon all wrapped up in a torrid affair that Sarah suddenly and inexplicably breaks off, telling him she will always love him. Maurice is utterly bereft, little guessing her true motivations.

Two years later, Maurice has a chance meeting with Henry, his obsession with Sarah is rekindled, and in time he discovers that her love for him remains unaltered. After much pining and yearning, he finally confronts Sarah and accuses her of cheating not only on her husband but on him as well. She has been behaving mysteriously, you see, and neither Henry nor Maurice has seen "Camille," so they don't seem to connect her odd comings and goings with a persistent cough.

Fiennes and Moore go together like bangers and mash, but Rea has the more difficult task of appearing sympathetic without looking like an utter ass for ignoring their obvious attraction.

He pulls it off with a stiff upper lip and a great deal of pained dignity. That's not to say that the actors can really put across the film's morose and weirdly mystical resolution. Suffice it to say that her real love is bigger than the both of them and, sadly, has nothing whatsoever to do with hosiery.

The End of the Affair (105 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for sex and nudity.

CAPTION: Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes cook up some chemistry in "The End of the Affair."