UK release date: 3 January 2003

cast list
Ralph Fiennes
Miranda Richardson
Gabriel Byrne

directed by
David Cronenberg

Britain seems to be a rather popular country for the moment in Hollywood: the latest big releases (Harry Potter and 007) are based in it, and you can’t tell me that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth accents in Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers are completely alien to the West Country (and other parts) of the British Isles.

Indeed, David Cronenberg, whose films include Videodrome, Crash, Existenz and The Fly, amongst others, has turned from his native Canada to London for his latest offering, Spider.

Spider tells the story of a man in his 40s nicknamed Spider, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is released from a mental asylum, and sent to a half-way house in the East End of London, an institution run by the strict maternal Mrs Wilkinson (played by an equally strict and maternal Lynn Redgrave, in fine form).

Once back in London, Spider starts to relive the memories of his childhood, and in doing so comes to terms with the way his life has lived itself. He sees himself as a child again, reliving the death of his mother (played by Miranda Richardson) at the hands of his drunken father, who has committed the crime so that his mistress, a prostitute named Yvonne, can join him as alive-in lover, and his subsequent revenge on the couple.

The film is not happy viewing, yet it would be unfair to avoid the film for this reason. Cronenberg has been directing quasi-horror films for many years, and Spider sees him as a master of his craft- in his own way he should be regarded as an equal to the polished escapist modes of Spielberg and the psychological torments of Hitchcock. He knows exactly what he sets out to do, and delivers it accurately without difficulty and with only a hint of pretension.

I had difficulty shaking off the feeling at the start of the film that Fiennes was a Hollywood actor trying to revive his career by appearing as a mentally unstable character in an independent film.

Yet his performance quickly dispelled any qualms I had about his casting, and throughout he gives a fantastically acute performance reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton’s arresting portrayal of a similar character in Sling Blade. He is absolutely electrifying, and it is easy to make the comparison between the adult Spider, and Spider as a boy (played by 10-year-old newcomer Bradley Hall, who portrays his character amazingly well and whose character is possibly the backbone of the story that unfolds, a task which Hall convincingly shoulders).

The ensemble acting is that of seasoned professionals, all masters of their craft, and the story envelops the audience as it unfolds. Howard Shore’s atmospheric soundtrack completes what amounts to a terrific movie.

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