Liffey Lambert (Kelly Reilly) has always wanted to live in the country, so persuades her boyfriend Richard (Oscar Pearce) to accompany her to a cottage in Ireland which, being an architect, she hopes to renovate and do something about the fire damage it suffered many years ago. He goes along with her, perhaps not quite as convinced as she is that this is the right place for them and their relationship to blossom, as he still has his own job to worry about, but he's in love as she is with him. However, what they haven't counted on is the interference of their nearest neighbours...
Nicolas Roeg returned to big screen work after a while away with this adaptation of one of Fay Weldon's best novels, here scripted by her son Dan Weldon, but for whatever reason, the end result was somewhat neglected and won few fans. It could have been because there was a remote sensibility to the action that failed to engage with the viewers, as it attempted to match the sardonic authorial voice of the book, which took a dispassionate, even scientific view of the characters and mixed it with a heavy dose of Mother Nature's mysticism. It was safe to say Weldon's intimate approach was something best left to the page.
And yet, it was not half as bad as its detractors would have you believe even if it didn't find quite the right tone to what was essentially a tale of modern day witchcraft. In the novel, it was Liffey's neighbour Mabs Tucker (Miranda Richardson) who was the villain, an earthy monster who fools Liffey into taking her potions so as to claim the unborn baby in her womb, but here the aspect that saw her urges dictated by natural forces she barely understands was what informed Mabs, so comes across as just as confused as Liffey as they're buffeted by the needs of their bodies. Mabs wants more children, but the doctor tells her she is too old, so a jealousy erupts when Liffey accidentally falls pregnant.
If anyone is the villain in this interpretation, it's Mabs' mother Molly (Rita Tushingham), who is the one who sets the potions brewing and ends up making Liffey have sex with Mabs' husband (William Houston) in the hope that she will bear the child Molly wants for a grandchild. As expected with Roeg, the sex scenes - and there are a few of them - are among the most energetic of the film, as if the director found his sense of purpose shooting them, just as nature does in implementing them. Elsewhere, he seems less sure, as if the story got away from him in the editing, and the more passionate parts of the story do arrive out of the blue in comparison with the sinster, dreamlike mood of the rest of it.
There's only one real scene of horror, and that's the nightmare sequence which Liffey suffers about halfway through; Fay Weldon says her inspiration for writing the original came from observing the puffball mushrooms around her countryside home when she was pregnant herself, and noting the similarities between them and her own swelling belly, which followed on to an anxiety about how the puffballs tended to be kicked and destroyed by the locals. This fear is well conveyed here, but it's more of an unease, as if the characters are in the throes of a higher power, which if course they are, but it's making them act irrationally. Or are they being rational by giving into their natural desires? Although slow, the film works up this uncertainty to its benefit, yet this does mean the actors are lost in the middle of it; nobody is bad, but this is not really a film you watch for the performances. The novel remains more satisfying, though this was a worthy try even as it missed Weldon's lucidity by quite some distance.