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Film / Angels & Insects

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Angels & Insects is a 1995 American-British romance drama film directed by Philip Haas and starring Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas. It was written by Philip and Belinda Haas with A. S. Byatt after her novella Morpho Eugenia (included in her book Angels and Insects).

In Victorian England, naturalist William Adamson (Rylance) goes to live with his benefactor, Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp), being employed to catalog Sir Harold's specimen collection and teach natural sciences to his younger children. There, William becomes enamoured of Sir Harold's eldest daughter, the soft-spoken but anxious Eugenia (Kensit). However, although Eugenia accepts his marriage proposal and Sir Harold grants his approval, Eugenia's snobbish and spoilt brother Edgar (Douglas Henshall) dislikes William, ostensibly due to his humble origins. While William's life appears otherwise to be content, with the marriage producing children, spending much of his time with the younger Alabaster children and observing insects in the forest, and forming a bond with the Alabaster children's governess, the unassuming Matty Crompton (Scott Thomas), who encourages his scientific activities, William will soon discover a terrible secret.

This film features examples of:

  • Animal Motifs: Insects. William sees a resemblance between the insects he studies and the wealthy, eccentric family he joined when he married; the costumes worn by Eugenia and the other female characters were designed in bright colors and bold patterns to evoke the appearance of insects; and during the marriage proposal scene, moths flock towards Eugenia (which was achieved by having Patsy Kensit's gown treated with female sex hormones to attract the moths).
  • Betty and Veronica: The kind and reliable Matty is the Betty to the alluring and anxious Eugenia's Veronica (the latter who also alternates between coldness and intense passion for bonus points) to William's Archie.
  • Book Ends: The reason why William came to live with Sir Harold at the beginning of the film was because he had lost his possessions when an expedition to the Amazon he was in shipwrecked. The film ends with William departing with Matty for another ship for the Amazon.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: William discovers that Eugenia is in an incestuous relationship with her own brother Edgar.
  • Driven to Suicide: Eugenia's late fiancé is revealed to have committed suicide after discovering her incestuous relationship with her brother.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The costumes worn by Eugenia, Matty and the other female characters, designed in bright colors and bold patterns, which would even earn the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.
  • The Lost Lenore: Gender-flipped with William finding Eugenia mourning the recent death of her fiancé. Subverted with the reveal that it's not so much his death alone that affects her, but also the guilt that her fiancé actually committed suicide after discovering her incestuous relationship with her brother.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Edgar doesn't approve of William marrying his sister Eugenia, ostensibly due to William's humble origins. As it turns out, it's actually because Edgar is sleeping with Eugenia.
  • Not Actually His Child: On top of realizing that he has been used to conceal the incest between Eugenia and Edgar, William also discovers that the children he supposedly had with her (who bear no resemblance to him) are Edgar's.
  • Questionable Consent: The way Eugenia describes her incestuous relationship with her own brother gives ground to this. She says that it has occurred since childhood and that when it started she was too young to understand but, after she found it wrong, she tried to stop it, but that Edgar's will was too strong. This seems corroborated when, after William discovers his brother-in-law raping a teenage servant, Edgar tells William that the servant consented, even though she is clearly terrified.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The point where Edgar goes from simply being a snobbish jerk to truly despicable human being is when William discovers him raping a teenage servant in a stable.
  • The Reveal: Eugenia is in an incestuous relationship with her own brother Edgar.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Matty, who expresses frustration at her life and dependency on the Alabasters, reveals that she has published her own book on the insects, and assures William of her strength after she reveals that she has bought tickets for a ship for the Amazon, as William is reluctant as he feels that the rain forest is unsuitable for a woman.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Eugenia's behaviour alternates between coldness (to the point of locking William out of her room) and intense sexual passion.