The film follows an intense affair between Stella, the unhappy wife of an asylum superintendent, and one of the inmates, an artist named Edgar, committed after he murdered his wife. The affair jeopardizes the well-being of her precious son, Charlie, the career of her coolly bureaucratic husband, Max, and her own sanity.
This is the latest from Mackenzie, whose last feature was the dour Young Adam. Asylum works though some of the same themes—the cruelties of love, the mysteries of human motivation—in the same gloomy British landscapes.
The film is a little too sober, too dry (nowhere better shown than in the thin, steely eyes of McKellen), but it offers a chance to admire the always radiant Richardson. Csokas also nicely reveals the wounds beneath Edgar's single-minded rage.
The men who come into contact with Stella all have their moment to love her, and all end up trying to control her. Yet there is something deep and inscrutable about Stella that keeps her from being a victim and makes for an unexpected final reel. Stella, it seems, is most in control of her own being while staring madness straight in the eye.