Magnolia rather than White or Ivory
Former diplomat Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) who lost his sight decides to open an elegant bar in Shanghai. It is who he comes to meet Sofia (Natasha Richardson), a Russian Countess who along with her family had to flee the Revolution which left her poor and having to support herself with a variety of jobs including bar-girl. It is a curious relationship which forms between the two of them and they find themselves caught up as the city is invaded by the Japanese.
Well what can I say about "The White Countess" other than right from the word go this movie was a slog, a beautifully shot slog with an appealing cast including the wonderful and sadly missed Natasha Richardson but still a slog. And the reason for the repetitive use of the word slog is because the storyline isn't interesting and it frequently gets distracted by subplots which seem to add nothing, certainly not the intrigue which I am sure was the intention.
I don't know what is about "The White Countess" as whilst it is beautifully shot it never comes close to being the magnificent beauty you expect from a Merchant Ivory movie. And whilst it features a strong cast their characters never really grab you and they all seem to have been intentionally under written to create mystery only to result in actors over acting to try and create some character. Plus when things start to kick off we have Todd, who is blind, managing to work his through a city in chaos, being bustled about in the streets and not losing his bearings.
What this all boils down to is that "The White Countess" was a disappointment because I expected so much more from a Merchant Ivory movie especially one with such a high calibre of starts. In truth it isn't a bad movie, yes it has plenty of issues, but the biggest problem is that it doesn't live up to the high expectations that the name Merchant Ivory brings with it.