Filmed in Toronto by Showtime Entertainment. Executive producers, Ted Swanson , Karen Goodwin; producer-director, Linda Yellen; writers, Jonathan Platnick, Yellen; Linda Yellen’s handsome production keenly captures a fin de siecle summer spent in upstate New York circa 1890. The writing, by Yellen and Jonathan Platnick, and the acting of Jacqueline Bisset and Peter Weller as star-crossed lovers, are more diffuse, sometimes straining to convey thematic points about the transition to a more progressive period. All told, “End of Summer” is an effective melodrama.
“Edith Wharton Lite” is a fair summation. During the last throes of the Victorian era, personal sexual awakenings mirror changes in society. Repressed desire is unleashed at a hotel in Saratoga Springs as mores are loosening in time for the dawning century. The transition is far from smooth on both levels.
Christine Van Buren (Bisset) is a spinster and amateur potter who runs across an old admirer at her summer retreat. Twenty years earlier, while she loved in silence, Theo Remington (Weller) had his heart broken by Christine’s opportunistic cousin. He went out West and made his fortune.
Their second chance is complicated by other hotel guests. An ambitious minister (Julian Sands), an unscrupulous society matron (Elizabeth Shepherd) and a wild, attractive young woman Christine is chaperoning (Amy Locane)get in the way. Romantic liaisons — between the minister and a maid, and between Theo and Christine’s charge — take place when Christine leaves to take care of her dying father.
The story branches out in a number of directions. An unwanted pregnancy, bribery, social climbing by the reverend and the collapse of the financial markets all figure in keeping Theo and Christine apart. Script gains depth by not remaining on the romantic level and by including accessible details about turn-of-the century life. But bluntness, a virtue of the new order, is the movie’s weakness. For example, the minister dons his collar during an explicit sex scene while a choir sings on the soundtrack. Stilted ending has love transcending every setback and threat of collapse.
Yellen’s direction is fluid and full of confidence, though she hasn’t put all her actors at ease. Weller and Bisset mesh well and each comes up with a solid characterization. Bisset is less convincing at the more contemplative moments but shines when angry or impassioned. Weller is dashing enough to snare the young lady, and if his delivery occasionally sounds anachronistic, it could be attributed to the character’s long stint in the less formal Western states.
Shepherd delivers the sharpest performance, as a mere shell of propriety. Sands’ turn as the corrupt cleric is a disaster, thanks to a botched American accent and a tendency to wring his hands for no good reason, or rather, for any reason.
Brassy, energetic production is epitomized by a vivid Fourth of July dance scene featuring terrific costumes. The atmosphere of furtive romance and new opportunity, with a couple necking behind every tree, is forcefully conjured, while the acting troupe works hard to keep up. Cinematography by David Bridges is excellent and takes advantage of Toronto locations, which are ideal stand-ins for Saratoga and Central Park.