This is a highly cerebral and thought-provoking movie based on a play by Wallace Shawn that was staged in 1996 at London's National Theatre. Three characters sit at a table and talk to the camera about their experiences in an unnamed country where highbrow intellectuals and artists are under siege.
In a tour de force performance, Mike Nichols is Jack, a charming raconteur and cynic who has sold his soul in order to survive. He claims to be "the designated mourner" for a dying elitist culture represented by his father-in-law, Howard (David de Keyser), a poet and intellectual. This elderly gentleman shares with us his love of literature and his sadness over the barbarization of culture in his country. Miranda Richardson is Judy, Howard's privileged daughter and Jack's abandoned wife. She reveals what it feels like to have one's life shattered.
Director David Hare has brought Wallace Shawn's play to the screen with deep respect for the English language and for the drama's exploration of the nuances of the human spirit. While some, no doubt, will squirm in their seats, culture lovers will relish this film's rigorous examination of class warfare, the soullessness of cynicism, the trashing of culture, and the dire effects of both ivory tower intellectualism and political repression.