“He was the toast of Whitehall. The flavour of flavours.”
I have really enjoyed a fair number of films by Stephen Poliakoff, and it’s fair to say that if I see that he’s made a new film, I make a point of seeking it out and watching it. Unfortunately, Gideon’s Daughter, a made-for-British television film is not up to Poliakoff’s usual standard.
Poliakoff’s characters are always very much creations of their time and space. Take Shooting the Past, for example–the excellent tale of a woman who’s in charge of a photograph collection. The collection is slated for destruction, and she fights to save it, weaving the value of the photos in tales of their creation. Gideon’s Daughter follows the same formula as much of Poliakoff’s other fare. In this drama, the characters are meshed with their environment and their slice of history in a framed tale that begins with a reporter who gets the back-story on the millennium celebration.
Gideon (Bill Nighy) is a London-based PR wizard responsible for many innovative projects, and he’s also contracted to handle the millennium celebration. Gideon mixes with the powerful, the influential and the elites of London who all come to him for advice, treating him like some sort of guru. Ironically, while everyone eats up his advice, Gideon’s relationship with his daughter Natasha (Emily Blunt) is abysmally poor.
A chance meeting with a bereaved bohemian Stella (Miranda Richardson) acts as a catalyst for Gideon’s sterile, meaningless life.
Gideon’s Daughter tries to be a grand story, but unfortunately, it ends up being only pretentious and empty. Full of clichés: “when they go to university, it’s like a death,” the film portrays Natasha as a troubled girl who wants to go save the Jaguars. The film seems to take this preposterous premise seriously, and Natasha only comes off as petulant and spoiled. Similarly, Gideon is a middle-aged man who’s supposed to be troubled over the inauthentic life he leads (hence his attraction to the authentic Stella), but instead he comes off as stupefied, shriveled and half-dead. And that’s a shame as I think Nighy is a very talented actor.
The film ties in this empty tale with threads about the death of princess Diana, the millennium, and with a few heavenly choral scenes thrown in for good measure, it tries to be grand, but ends up just being pretentious and absurd. For example, just what ax does Natasha have to grind? Well when the film reveals the deep dark guilt, it’s a bit of letdown. Similarly, what is Gideon’s collapse all about? Very disappointing. Very silly. Anyway, bottom line, for this Poliakoff fan, Gideon’s Daughter was a HUGE disappointment.