The Last September (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Scoop's notes

This is a period drama about Ireland in the 1920's, when the last generation of the Anglo-Irish aristocrats was trying to decide where they belonged. It is done in the general dignified style of BBC, Masterpiece Theater or Merchant/Ivory.

Here's the historical background:

In 1914, the English revoked the "Home Rule Bill", which had been designed to give Ireland a modicum of autonomy. As you might expect., the Irish were not pleased. Various radical and separatist groups were motivated to action, including Sinn Fein ("we ourselves", founded in 1905), a group which is still known today as the political arm of the IRA.

The Easter Rebellion, in the spring of 1916, marked the beginning of a new era in Irish-English relations. On the day after Easter, the Republicans claimed various government buildings in Dublin, and declared a provisional government of the new Irish Republic. This didn't sit well with the English, who sent in troops the next day, established martial law, rounded up the insurgents and sent the leaders to the firing squad without even any pre-execution crumpets.

I don't know if they thought that this would strike fear into the hearts of the rebels, and quell the insurgency, but if they thought that they were plumb loco, as we say in Texas. Shooting some Irish patriots is like shooting Jason in those horror movies. It just makes them madder. Britain's forceful suppression of the revolt actually strengthened the will of the rebel groups.

Sinn Fein was reorganized under Eamon De Valera, and set up an alternate assembly which claimed to be the legitimate ruling body of Ireland. The British and Irish fought for five or six years, and if you have seen the movie Michael Collins, with Liam Neeson, you're probably familiar with what happened in that time.

The fighting continued until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Collins himself was nominated to head up the team which represented the Republicans in the negotiations with Lloyd George. This treaty incorporated 26 of Ireland's 32 counties. I believe you know pretty much what has happened to the other six counties over the years. Actually, the 26 to the South weren't so tranquil, either, in those days. Even patriotic Irish leaders were split over the proper nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship, and the Free State treaty had opponents from every extreme of the political spectrum.

OK, enough background.

The point is that there was a bloc of English-Irish creoles, people of English descent who were born in Ireland or whose children were born in Ireland, and who considered themselves both good Irishmen and good subjects of the Crown. Many of them had gone there originally to be government administrators. When Ireland became a battleground in the teens and twenties, these people found themselves at the September of their era, with the end clearly in sight. They were not able to continue in their former glory, and they had no viable alliances to forge a new life. Irish Republicans certainly didn't want them in the new free Ireland, and yet their divided loyalty made them suspect by the British as well.  So they wondered desperately what to do, tried to stay alive, and cried a lot as they planned to leave their great estates and move to two-room flats in Toronto.

This movie chronicles the lives of those people, the Anglo-Irish, in that time, the 1920's.Needless to say, for the purpose of dramatic contrast, the lovely young Anglo-Irish daughter is flirting with both a British soldier (who is unacceptable to her family because of his social status), and an Irish radical (who is a violent outlaw, and therefore even more unacceptable). Her relationships with the two men leave her walking a dangerous tightrope in a netless society.

The cinematography is magnificent. You may not have heard of Slavomir Idziak, but he was Kieslowski's cinematographer, and he's in his element here, working with a director who idolizes Kieslowski, and a composer who scored many of Kieslowski's films. If you had told me, "Oh, yeah, it's a rare English language film from Kieslowski", I would have believed you until I looked at the 1999 date. (Kieslowski died a few years earlier). Despite the film's beautiful look, I thought the story was pretty much of a complete snoozefest. I found it too middlebrow and historical-romance-novelish to be a great movie, and too damned slow and boring to be good entertainment. Someday this historical backdrop may make for an brilliant movie. Not this day, however.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen print. Nice colors.

  • No extras except two interviews and a dramatic reading from the book. Although it seems impossible, these are even more boring than the movie.



Keeley Hawes was topless during her rendezvous with the Irish Rebel.

Tuna's notes

The Last September (1999) is an adaptation of a novel by a notable Anglo-Irish author named Elizabeth Bowen. An Anglo/Irish co-production which IMDb lists as French, it is a first film by theater director Deborah Warner, and has an all-star cast of acting talent including Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Fiona Shaw and Michael Gambon. It is set in September of 1920 during the period when the British control of Ireland was challenged by Irish rebels, and it was obvious to the members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy that life as they knew it was about to end and that their grand family houses would have to be abandoned . The story takes place at one such house.

So far, I am describing an historical drama, but this film is actually a love story, which may account for the sharp division among critics.

Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith, solid members of the Anglo-Irish ruling tribe, preside over a grand house, which fills with visitors trying to enjoy September, but having trouble with the violent backdrop that continuously reminds them of impending change. Their niece, played by then newcomer Keeley Hawes, is now of age, and seems to be in love with romance. She has a suitor, a dashing captain with the British Army that is too far beneath her social station for anything permanent, and she has an interest in the brother of her best friend, a member of the resistance.

Lambert Wilson and Jane Birkin arrive as houseguests, trying to hide the fact that they are now homeless. Fiona Shaw, who is also in her own "Last September" as she is again engaged, but this time at an age where she can't break it off, and will have to wed a stuffy old stockbroker. She does become the friend and confidant of Keeley Hawes. In fact, many in the cast are gong through their own "Last Septembers" giving the title extra meaning. In addition to the acting talent, County Cork and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak became important characters in this film.

If you like historical dramas and love stories, you might enjoy this one. If not, at 103 minutes, it will be a long, long watch.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Two and a half stars out of four. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their dollars ... virtually nil. $500,000. Never made it to more than 56 screens. If it was released in the UK, the results are not available.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C, a completely competent movie in all respects, and a beautifully photographed one, but not one to watch if you have an aversion to historical dramas or love stories.

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