Waterland (1992) from Tuna

Stephen Gyllenhaal's Waterland brings to life a very dark script by Peter Prince based on a Graham Swift novel. It tells the story of an aging  prep school history professor (Jeremy Irons) who is losing his grip on his students and his sanity. To capture student interest and acceptance, he begins to tell the rather lurid story of his youth in The Fens, the flat wet Northern area of England. It is the story of his ancestors, and then of his own life with his wife Mary. It is, I suppose, a ripping yarn, including adolescent sex, murder, abortion, a reprobate grandfather who was a brewer, and much more. Meanwhile, in the present day, his wife has become overly religious, and has kidnapped a baby, all as a result of what happened to them as teenagers.

Most critics feel that Waterland had many good features, but didn't really work. Public acceptance has been much better. Although it grossed just over $1M in a US theatrical release, IMDb readers now say 6.6. I was not as impressed as those readers, but it is not my sort of material. Irons was brilliant, and Sinéad Cusack as the older Mary was top-notch, making me believe that she had gone quietly batty living with her past secret, but the story is unrelentingly dark, somber and depressing, start to finish, and I didn't find the same visual appeal to the area that Gyllenhaal did, nor could I see any reason why he moved Tom and Mary Crick to Pittsburgh, even though the remembrances are all in England. Most important, the story simply led nowhere. Throughout the telling, I hoped that Irons had some brilliant plan, and would tie the stories to some life-changing history lesson for the students, but it wasn't to be, and he even used his forced retirement assembly to finish the story.



  • New Digital Widescreen Transfer
  • New Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Gyllenhaal
  • New Interview with Composer Carter Burwell


  • Then-newcomer Lena Headey as young Mary showed breasts in two sex scenes. She was discovered in a country little theater, and was not highly regarded by her director.

  • Cara Buono, as a student, shows breasts in a brief fantasy scene.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

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.

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