Hugh Hudson and David Puttnam, the British team that graced the world with the Oscar-winning movie CHARIOTS OF FIRE, have banded together once again to create MY LIFE SO FAR, set in 1927 and 1934. Based on an autobiography by Sir Denis Forman, a former TV executive who has become director of the Royal Opera House in England, MY LIFE SO FAR is a well-crafted, very entertaining period piece that, regrettably, includes far too much objectionable material and far too many thematic problems with its mild Christian worldview.
The first part of the movie is a wonderful, mostly clean series of adventures concerning a young boy named Fraser Pettigrew, who lives on his grandmother’s Scottish estate with his mother, Moira (the grandmother’s daughter), and his father, Edward. His father is an eccentric inventor who sees the commercial benefits of the estate’s Scottish moss, but is thought by others to be a crackpot. Fraser idolizes his young father, who likes to give preachy sermons at the Christian church about the importance of “a healthy mind and a healthy body.”
Things are idyllic at Gamma Macintosh’s beautiful estate until Fraser’s Uncle Morris, the older brother of his mother, brings home his young French fiancé, Heloise. Heloise is a lovely and lively dark-haired woman who plays the cello. Everyone is smitten with Eloise, especially Fraser and his father Edward, who has a fascination with Beethoven and falls in love with Heloise and her musical talent. Edward’s infatuation with Heloise, who soon marries Uncle Morris, creates tension between him and his wife and his son, whom Heloise clearly adores (in a Platonic fashion). It doesn’t help matters that Uncle Morris thinks Edward is a fool who’s wasting the economic possibilities of the estate with his moss factory. The rivalry between Morris and Edward boils over in the movie’s climax.
Meanwhile, the tension with his father, and his affection for Heloise, drives 10-year-old Fraser to investigate the “ways of the flesh” among his late grandfather’s books and papers, which include many sexy pictures of nude women. Fraser yearns to know more things than his father, who does not know how to satisfy his son’s growing curiosity about the adult world, both its sexual and asexual aspects. Fraser’s understanding of the adult world is flawed because it is self-taught, often leading to embarrassing, funny moments. These moments are intercut with several entertaining scenes about life on the grandmother’s Scottish estate in the country, giving MY LIFE SO FAR plenty of charming atmosphere.
Colin Firth, Robbie Norman and Rosemary Harris give excellent performances as the father, the son and the grandmother. Regrettably, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio seems under-utilized as the mother, whose character should have been developed more fully. Malcolm MacDowell gives the right amount of devilish charm and indignation as the snotty but appealing Uncle Morris. Finally, Irene Jacob is alluring as Heloise, the outgoing Frenchwoman who displays lots of common sense when placed in awkward situations.
Edward’s adulterous feelings toward this young French maid and his petty rivalry with his older brother-in-law, Morris, provide an interesting morality tale. They are the primary focus of the movie’s dramatic conflicts. The movie compares Edward’s adventures to Fraser’s own sexual exploration of “forbidden fruit.”
Heloise rightly rebuffs Edward’s advances and tries to placate him with a friendly letter that advises him to stop having immoral feelings about her. This just aggravates Edward’s jealousy toward Morris. Edward’s preaching and interest in Christianity leads to many scenes in the movie where Christianity, the Creation and moral hypocrisy are debated. Heloise in fact recognizes Edward as a hypocrite. So, she brings up the issue of hypocrisy during a family dinner where Edward pontificates on morality for a moment. These debates are not resolved at all, much less in favor of Christianity, although Edward eventually repents of his sinful desires. In fact, he fully restores his marriage at the end of the movie, admitting to his wife that he’s acted “like a child.” This comes without any appeal to Jesus Christ or even to God, however.
Thus, the story of Edward’s marriage in the movie, while it is dramatically interesting and has a positive moral resolution, is not explicitly religious or Christian. This is regrettable since the movie makes a point of referring to Edward’s passion for sermonizing and moralizing. MY LIFE SO FAR is a far cry from the strong Christian viewpoint displayed in A VOW TO CHERISH, a Christian video about marriage starring Ken Howard and Barbara Babcock, which MOVIEGUIDE® recently gave four stars, as well as a Plus 4 in acceptability.
If the non-religious resolution to Edward’s adultery was the only moral and spiritual defect in MY LIFE SO FAR, the movie would deserve a more positive acceptability rating. Unlike the issue of Edward’s adultery, however, the movie embraces 10-year-old Fraser’s voyeuristic interest in the pictures of nude women. At a crucial point in the movie, Edward secretly catches Fraser looking at such pictures while he’s twirling and drinking milk out of a brandy glass, in imitation of “adult” behavior. Edward smiles knowingly and quietly backs out of the room, as if to say that he approves of such voyeurism. The scene is symbolic of Edward’s own coming of age, but it and the other sexual references give MY LIFE SO FAR a smarmy quality that is quite disconcerting in contrast to the family-friendly aspects of this finely-crafted movie. This problem is made considerably worse by the fact that the filmmakers give an inordinate amount of screen time to the images of the nude pictures Fraser sees.
Sexual curiosity is part of growing up, and can be handled tastefully in films, but MY LIFE SO FAR lends strong tacit approval to pornography, despite much scientific evidence that pornography can damage impressionable young minds. What a shame!
Mild Christian worldview overall with Christian elements but with strong pagan elements regarding a young boy's pornographic curiosity about sex, plus some strong anti-Christian elements that contradict the movie's basic worldview; 18 obscenities & 2 exclamatory profanities plus references to prostitution, nude pictures & other sexual issues; mild violence such as men fight over inheritance & sexual rivalry, woman falls through ice, 3-year-old boy climbs onto roof, & three corpses shown; depicted copulation between farm animals & 10-year-old boy starts reading about sex, looks at pictures of nude women & asks father uncomfortable questions about sex, plus mention of prostitution & lesbianism for comical effect; full male nudity of young boys skinny-dipping in lake & 10-year-old boy looks at many pictures of nude women, which the audience also sees; alcohol use & drunkenness; smoking; very minor lesbian character comes to visit house & brief discussion of lesbianism for comic effect when she does; and, adultery (rebuked & redeemed), petty family rivalries over money & woman, voyeurism (not rebuked but accepted with a smile at the end), & movie fails to resolve debates over Christianity, the Creation & moral hypocrisy, though marital fidelity is upheld at the end, including a statement of repentence.