Effie Gray Dakota Fanning, Greg Wise, Tom Sturridge. Directed by Richard Laxton. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Like watching paint dry on an exquisite masterpiece, Effie Gray is a tasteful, restrained and mind-numbingly boring take on the relationship between 19th-century British author John Ruskin and the title character, who endured a loveless and sexless marriage to Ruskin before leaving him for painter John Everett Millais. As played by Dakota Fanning, Effie is meek and prone to bouts of melancholy, but optimistic when she marries the older Ruskin (Greg Wise), a longtime family friend. But the seemingly kind Ruskin soon turns cold and distant, refusing even to touch his new wife. Neglect turns to cruelty, especially after Effie (who clearly just wants to get effed) makes a connection with Millais (Tom Sturridge), Ruskin’s protégé.
Although the love triangle provoked a massive scandal in its day, Effie Gray is so averse to salaciousness that it ends up dramatically inert. Effie and Millais’ affair never progresses beyond the light clasping of hands, and the characters behave with such decorum that the movie is completely lacking in passion. Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay) brings the only hint of liveliness as a feisty noblewoman who helps Effie, but her role is too small to rouse the movie from its torpor. Handsomely shot in Scotland, London and Venice, Effie Gray often looks as lovely as one of the paintings Ruskin so admires, but it has no artistic fire. Effie went on to have a full life after leaving Ruskin, but the movie ends before any of that, finishing its slow, tedious journey on one final dreary note.