Directed by: Brad Anderson
Formerly known as ‘Eliza Graves’, ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ is loosely adapted from an Edgar Allen Poe short story. The basic plot feeds from the well-known saying “the lunatics are running the asylum”. In the case of Stonehearst, they literally are.
The film begins with a pale and dishevelled Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) paraded in a lecture hall in front of several aspiring psychiatric Doctors. She is inappropriately poked and prodded by the horrid lecturer Brendan Gleason. The scene highlights how horrific things were in Victorian times, and the lack of care and understanding that was shown towards mental health (some might argue things haven’t gotten much better). The more perceptive viewer will note that Brendan Gleason’s lecturer is not named; this proves important later in the film.
We then move to events that take place a significant time later as Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a newly qualified Oxford grad, arrives to work as an assistant Doctor at Stonehearst Asylum. Stonehearst is run by Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), a superintendent with unorthodox methods. The majority of the patients are free, roaming the corridors. The timid Newgate, who lacks the confidence of an Oxbridge educated man, is shocked by what he sees.
Newgate is introduced to Eliza, who is a patient at Stonehearst, and instantly falls in love with her. Due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Graves convulses and tenses up whenever a man even goes far as to touch her. Beckinsale’s performance is ok, but she’s a strange actress, in that she seems to get by not only because the camera loves her, but in the sense that she’s just dependable. She is the old fashioned Hollywood definition of beautiful, but is missing that special something the top leading ladies in Hollywood have.
Without spoiling things too much, Silas Lamb is not who he first seems, and it transpires that the real superintendent Dr Salt (Michael Caine) and his staff are held captive, deep in the basement of the asylum. Silas was in the army and has frequent flashbacks where he sees the ghostly figure of a drummer boy. He and his right hand man, a brute called Mickey Finn, run the Asylum almost into the rocks because when winter hits the asylum begins to unravel. At this point in the movie the astonishing truth comes to light.
‘Stonehearst Asylum’ features a strong ensemble cast, there are a few stand-out performances, Kingsley fresh from his return to form in ‘Iron Man 3’ is great, Jim Sturgess also does well, and praise should also go to who Sophie Kennedy Clark who plays the naïve ‘nurse’ Millie. But despite the collective strength of the acting talent on board there seems to be too much going on, and a tighter more focussed story would’ve worked better, I get the feeling this is a ninety minute film padded out to almost two hours.
Brad Anderson doesn’t quite get the mood right; ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ is halfway between a dark melodrama and the kind of lighter macabre film that Tim Burton would be involved in. It’s a shame because the film has all the ingredients for being something that is a little bit different, and special. Disappointingly it just doesn’t quite get there.