Starring: Karina Lombard, Nathaniel Parker, Claudia Robinson
Director: John Duigan
Distributor: Roadshow Entertainment
Kaleidoscopic images of kelp introduce the viewer to the dangerously seductive waters around Haiti in the mid 1800’s. Above the high tide mark British colonials cling to a dream of dominance in their ridiculous top hats and waistcoats, mocked by the West Indians who appropriate their inappropriate clothing with native panache.
Straddling these two worlds is a stunning Creole heiress named Antoinette Cosway (The L Word’s Karina Lombard) who agrees to an arranged marriage with the newly arrived Edward Rochester (Nathaniel Parker). Taking up residence in her idyllic mountain hideaway, the pair indulge in a suitably steamy honeymoon, leaving their bridal bed only to bathe in an enchanted pool inhabited by a mythical crab. A bit of voodoo is evoked by Antoinette’s loyal maid Christophene (a wonderful Claudia Robinson) but it’s not enough to stop Antoinette’s estranged half brother dousing Edward’s passion with tales of his new mother-in-law’s madness. Annette (Rachel Ward) was deserted by her husband (Michael York) following the collapse of their sugar plantation and did indeed go insane. The implication is that Antoinette will succumb too. And once the seed of doubt is planted, the fecund environment can’t help but bring it to fruition.
This is the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel ‘Jane Eyre’ as conceived by British author Jean Rhys in 1966. The mad wife that Rochester married in the Caribbean and had locked up in his attic is none other than our heroine here, a free tropical spirit forced to go truly troppo in the stony cold walls of her husband’s paranoid power trip. It’s an exotic, tragic Gothic tale beautifully captured on celluloid by Geoffrey Burton with a cameo by Naomi Watts as a young colonial woman who has never been to England yet fondly refers to it as home. If only she had traded places with the ill-fated Antoinette.