The British are obsessed by two things: their aristocracy, with which they enjoy a love/hate relationship, and heterosexuality, with which they seem to enjoy an even worse relationship. Or so "Dark Obsession," which will be shown at the Charles today through Sunday, would have us believe.
This is one of those dreadfully kinky little films -- the recent "The Comfort of Strangers" was another -- that treats sex as if it were a sacrament. Add to that director Nick Broomfield's hatred of the ruling class, and you can understand what drives the movie even as you acknowledge that it's a failure.
"Dark Obsession" is a mystery of sorts. Sir Hugo Buckton (Gabriel Byrne) gets into an automobile accident while driving himself and some drunken male friends home after a party. The death of a female pedestrian -- whom none of the men knows -- seems only an accident. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that it was actually murder -- but that the woman Hugo was trying to kill was his wife, Virginia (Amanda Donohoe).
Why does Hugo want to murder his beautiful wife, whom he adores and who adores him in return? Because Hugo can't stop thinking about copulatory acts with his wife -- those he participates in and those he imagines she enjoys with others. But Hugo is such a burned-out case -- he seems to be held up only by the starch in his shirts -- that he can't kill his innocent wife, and so destroys the innocent lives of others.
Unfortunately, "Dark Obsession" is so incoherent -- one is never sure how most of the characters are related to one another -- that the mystery only begins to emerge near the end of the movie.
Along the way, Broomfield -- a documentary maker, for whom this is a first feature -- takes pot shots at the ruling class. A portrait being painted of Hugo in his Regimental Guards uniform unsubtly suggests a resemblance to Prince Charles, and there are some equally unsubtle suggestions about the repressed homosexuality and not-so-repressed incestuous drives that .
afflict Hugo, his family and their aristocratic friends. None of these suggestions leads anywhere, and neither does "Dark Obsession."
Starring Gabriel Byrne and Amanda Donohoe.
Directed by Nick Broomfield.
Released by Circle Releasing.