Oscar and Lucinda - Rated - HOT HOT HOT

According to some of the local critics, Oscar and Lucinda is beautiful, but cold. They find it does not engage their emotions as they'd hoped. They find Ralph Fiennes' performance flawed, and too mannered - composed of too many tics, and not enough character. But they praise Cate Blanchett's performance as intelligent and subtle.

My view is the complete opposite. Well almost.

The only thing in the above analysis that I agree with is that Oscar and Lucinda is ravishingly beautiful. The locations and the cinematography are breathtaking. The production design (Luciana Arrighi) and set decoration is a delight. And, being a Sydney-sider, I had the added thrill of recognising some of the locations and marvelling at how they captured them and remade them in the 19th century (some of it was done digitally).

But I happened to find Oscar and Lucinda intensely moving - and so did my companion. I think that part of my strong reaction was due to how vividly the film brought the detail of Carey's story back to me. I read the novel almost 10 years ago - it is one of my favourites - but I had forgotten much of the detail. Now Gillian Armstrong has made a film that brought the book flooding back - not just the story, but the emotional depths as well.

Ralph Fiennes, I thought, was a perfect Oscar. One of the things I remember most vividly from the book is Carey' portrait of Oscar - all wringing hands and twitches, pale and interesting, as they used to say. Fiennes has captured this, but avoided some kind of Uriah Heep caricature. He does this, and he also has the wit to play up the humour of the character as well. But he doesn't become a figure of fun - he's more like the Holy Fool that Carey intended. Fiennes does all this, and along the way he manages to make the timid and odd-looking Oscar attractive, in a strange sort of way.

Cate Blanchett certainly looks the part - helped considerably by splendid costumes designed by Janet Patterson. And she brings considerable intelligence to the part. She also plays the part for humour when required. And she's another satisfyingly strong female lead in Gillian Anderson's oeuvre. But I was never convinced of Lucinda's motivation. She had bouts of enthusiasm, and frissons of excitement which motivated her from time to time, but never did I glimpse the driving force behind her obsession. That said, her final scene is extraordinarily moving.

A couple of other little quibbles I have are:

· one or two shots of the enormous steamer on which Oscar and Lucinda travel to Australia are of a very small boat indeed;

· the film feels a little rushed in the first few scenes as all the background is given to us in big gulps;

· sometimes the sets do look slightly artificial (but maybe that's just because I had a rather Brechtian detachment due to my familiarity with many of the locations).

Against this I would list:

· The stunning racetrack scene with the passing parade of the rogues and touts and tarts of 19th century England;

· The gorgeous bushland vistas;

· The beautiful river shots at Bellingen;

· The wonderful supporting cast of Australia's finest actors;

· Richard Roxburgh's scene-stealing performance.

I also think Gillian Armstrong and Laura Jones did well with the changed ending. A film like this needs a closure, and cinema audiences are probably not as tolerant as readers when it comes to emotional satisfaction. The ending felt right. And it makes me keen to re-read the book, just to mark the differences. I think that all adds up to a very good film indeed.