Intrigue on a Turkish-occupied Greek island in 1908 is the theme of this mildly exotic British pic [based on the novel by Barry Unsworth] which, despite an eye-catching but mannered central performance from Ben Kingsley, looms as too languid and remote to make much impact.
Kingsley plays Pascali, a seedy little Turkish spy who’s lived on the small island of Nisi for 20 years. The ever-watchful agent is a very minor cog in the crumbling Ottoman Empire, yet is filled with self-importance. Sexually ambivalent, he carries a half-hearted torch for a comely, middle-aged Austrian painter, Lydia (Helen Mirren).
Enter Charles Dance as Bowles, a bronzed British adventurer professing to be an archeologist, actually planning to loot the island of its ancient treasures. Before long he’s involved in an affair with Lydia, observed by the frustrated and jealous Pascali who is, perhaps, even more attracted to Bowles than to the woman. The stage is set for a final-reel tragedy.
Kingsley gives a technically impressive performance as the frustrated, bitter spy, but his mannerisms are becoming bothersome. Best is Mirren who still can disrobe to play a love scene with elegance and style; she brings much-needed warmth to an otherwise cold pic.