Dir. Richard Attenborough. UK-Canada. 2007. 119 min.

Closing the Ringis a drama that aspires to achieve epic status but ultimately delivers too little. Lacking the sweep or sex appeal of similar tales of lost love and redemption such as The English Patient, it will struggle in a market that demands more than a single spark of resonance.

Without the dramatic kick to appeal to an older adult audience, the romance to play to a younger crowd, or production values that action requires, the film’s best option is to harness the Academy Award laurels of Shirley Maclaine alongside comely images of TV star Mischa Barton for its straight-to-DVD release. It will likely benefit from superficial similarities to Maclaine’s success in Terms Of Endearment.

Fifty years after losing her true love in WWII, a US widow (Maclaine) cannot bring herself to grieve for the long-lost man nor for the husband with whom she passed the intervening decades - until when, in 1991, a young Belfast man (McCann) discovers her lover’s ring on the hill where the aviator’s plane crashed during the war. The hill was later used by the IRA to bury its victims’ corpses. Mistakenly under suspicion by both the IRA and protestant paramilitaries, the young Irishman flees to the US to deliver the ring. The widow returns with him to Belfast and comes to terms with her loss only when confronted by the corpse of a British soldier killed in a bomb blast.

The two plot lines make strange bedfellows, requiring four groups of actors and two sets of flashbacks. Attenborough is clearly torn on which era to accentuate: the 1940s with the willowy but insubstantial Barton as the young widow Ethel wowing her beau and his wide-eyed aviator pals, or the ever-watchable Maclaine in Ethel’s aged incarnation. He would have done better with the latter, if only because budgetary restraints clearly limit period verisimilitude: the WWII-era set decoration is bare bones.

The hither and thither of shifting eras leaves Attenborough no time to explore the heart of the picture: the elder Ethel’s inner life and turmoil. We’re left to watch her as she sullenly smokes and drinks while shutting out those around her and, effectively, the audience.

Neve Campbell has a particularly thankless task as the zestless daughter who carps at her. Christopher Plummer fusses on the sidelines as the aged version of the happy-go-lucky pilot pal of her lost love. He secretly loved her. The film is awash in long-lost love.

The litany of woe can be condensed into one over-arching issue: there is no centre but many parts, none of which work well together. The US-set WWII sequences are bouncing and colourful, swinging to a breezy Big Band atmosphere unmolested by issues of sexual politics. There is no trace of Barton’s Ethel in Maclaine’s portrayal of her elder self.

The past in Belfast is given more grit but the audience has little time to commit to the characters who will appear 50 years later, a mistake given the frenzied coincidences between the US present and the Belfast past that surface at the conclusion.

Closing the Ring lacks the gravitas of its subject matter. The film portrays, but does not explore an interesting war-time incident: the German airforce’s April 1941 bombing of Belfast, a raid that killed 1,000 people and destroyed much of the city leaving a quarter of the population homeless. It was the greatest loss of life outside of London during the Blitz.

Belfast-born comedian Martin McCann shines as Jimmy, whose excavations complete the titular metaphor.

Production company
Closing the Ring Ltd (UK)
Prospero Pictures (Can)

International sales
ContentFilm International (UK)
00 44 207 851 6500

Alliance Films (Canada)

Jo Gilbert
Richard Attenborough
Martin Katz

Main cast
Shirley Maclaine
Christopher Plummer
Mischa Barton
Neve Campbell
Brenda Fricker
Pete Postlethwaite
Martin McCann