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Gambling Man, The
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by Charles Tatum

"Games People Play"
3 stars

Author Catherine Cookson penned almost one hundred novels in her ninety-one years, most dealing with life in her native northeast England. "The Gambling Man," one of those many stories, is brought to the small screen, and held this viewer's interest until the third act.

Rory (Robson Green) is a young man in 1870's England. He has a lovely girlfriend, Janie (Stephanie Putson), and a regular job collecting rent with his best friend John George (David Haddow). He lives at home with his extended family, not getting along with Lizzie (Anne Kent)- and we will soon find out why.

Rory is also very good at playing poker. His cockiness gets the better of him, and he gets game fixer Little Joe (Dennis Lingard) to set him up in a higher stakes game. Life for the characters quickly goes downhill. John George, who has been pilfering small amounts of money from his employer, is arrested for stealing a very large amount. Rory is beaten half to death after his big card game, at the orders of crooked businessman Frank Nickle (the always excellent Bernard Hill). Rory's brother, Jimmy (David Nellist), planned to buy a small shipyard, but Rory was supposed to help out financially. Rory and John George's boss dies, and the business falls to his plain spinster daughter Charlotte (Sylvestra Le Touzel), who becomes embroiled in the lives of her new employees.

Like a novel, I cannot give away too many more plot points without ruining the ending. I am not familiar enough with Cookson's books to know if this film was faithful to the page or not. Looking at the film is grand, but watching it started frustrating me.

The look of "The Gambling Man" is nothing short of miraculous. The costuming, the set design, the cinematography- all of it looks like it cost a fortune, and you can feel the cold humidity envelop you. The musical score is a little maudlin, but this is not a happy picture, so I feel it is appropriate.

T.R. Bowen's screenplay is another matter, or maybe I should be blaming Cookson's story. While the gambling angle of the tale is eventually subsided, the film is sprinkled with giggle-worthy soap operatics that would make Telenovela fans blush. I cannot get specific, but there is one sequence in the film (who's that knocking at Jimmy's door?) that had me roll my eyes and throw my hands in the air. The film does a u-turn from a Dickensian life story into "The Bold and the Blimey," and it will make you mad. Also, many storylines, which I invested a considerable amount of interest in, are dropped or not clarified.

The cast, made up of mostly television actors save Hill, is excellent. Green does an outstanding job playing Rory, who is not your average hero. Rory is downright hateful at many points, and Green completely occupies his role. Another special mention should go to Sylvestra Le Touzel as Charlotte. It wasn't easy being an independent businesswoman in Victorian England, but Le Touzel doesn't turn Charlotte into some ancient women's libber with an axe to grind.

Director Norman Stone does okay. He brings you into this world, but could not film a fight or action sequence to save his life. He also repeats the old "face coming out of darkness into light" one time too many.

I realize this 1995 film was not made for me; Cookson fans can seek this out as well as about half a dozen other television adaptations done at the same time. At two and a half hours, I invested a lot in these characters, and felt a little let down when it ended. "The Gambling Man" breaks even.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20331&reviewer=325
originally posted: 02/25/10 09:11:22
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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 03-Oct-2006

UK
  N/A (12)

Australia
  N/A (M)




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