You are guaranteed to leave the cinema thinking that Oscar And Lucinda is a very mad film. The period flick has never seen such a wilful pursuit of bizarre characterisation, even more bizarre narrative and to top it all, the unforgettable image of Ralph Fiennes, complete with flaming red hair, sailing down a river with a glass church. But, as with most surreal experiences, it's only on reflection that you can piece together just why this adaptation of Peter Carey's Booker-prize winning novel is actually very, very watchable.
Most striking is Little Women director Gillian Armstrong's ability to allow the action to tick to the beat of the characters' lives. Each sequence reflects and cradles Oscar and Lucinda's passions and crazed ambitions. Laid across this punchy naturalism are a host of lush, surreal images, making the film seem far more like a poem than an insipid, run-of-the-mill costume drama.
Blanchett puts in a sensitive but bold turn as the eccentric Lucinda, while Fiennes crowns the film with a stunning performance, reminiscent of his role in Schindler's List. Marrying vulnerability with verve, Fiennes is at the same time magical and utterly convincing.
Mildly irritating features include the contrived voice-overs which painstakingly establish the two protagonist's histories. But these are only minor hiccups, and never prevent this enchanting drama from crawling under your skin and haunting you for weeks afterwards.