"There is something I have noticed about desire," Jane Smiley writes in The Age of Grief. "It opens the eyes and strikes them blind at the same time." We have all experienced this at one time or another. We reach out in delirious anticipation for something we must have and then it turns us around and for a moment we are unable to see ourselves or what it is we really wanted. The experience of yearning is at the core of The Last September, an entrancing film based on a novel by Elizabeth Bowen and skillfully directed by Deborah Warner.

The setting for this romantic drama is County Cork, southern Ireland, in 1920. Nineteen-year-old Lois Farquar (Keeley Hawes in a dazzling performance) is visiting her relatives, Sir Richard Naylor (Michael Gambon) and Lady Myra (Maggie Smith), at their large country estate. They are Anglo-Irish aristocrats whose privileged existence is threatened by the struggle for Irish independence from England going on around them. Also staying at the Naylors are Lady Myra's nephew Laurence (Jonathan Slinger), an Oxford undergraduate, and Hugo and Francie Montmorency (Lambert Wilson and Jane Birkin), old family friends.

They are all fascinated with Lois's desperate yearning for an all-consuming love affair. Gerald (David Tennant), a British Army Captain, is attracted to her, but Lady Myra believes he's too poor and provincial for her niece. Besides Lois's fantasies about a life of adventure are fed by Marda Norton (Fiona Shaw), who arrives from London. She's a liberated woman with plenty of experience with men. Lois's flirtation with Peter Connolly (Gary Lydon), an Irish freedom fighter, leads to more than she expects or can handle. Yearning, in this engaging film, is a fire that both burns and edifies. Its lessons sear the soul.