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A Handful of Dust

6.61 h 53 min1988PG
Tony and Brenda appear to be the perfect married couple - with money, position, a great house and an adored son, John Andrew. When Tony invites John Beaver to stay for the weekend, he sets in motion a series of events which drastically disrupts the course of all their lives.
Charles Sturridge
Kristin Scott-ThomasAlec GuinnessStephen Fry
None Available
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Rentals include 30 days to start watching this video and 48 hours to finish once started.
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Supporting actors
James WilbyJudi DenchAnjelica HustonRupert Graves
Screenbound Pictures
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4.2 out of 5 stars

139 global ratings

  1. 62% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 11% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 16% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 3% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 7% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United Kingdom

Mr. Philip BairdReviewed in the United Kingdom on 01 May 2020
3.0 out of 5 stars
Doesn't capture the tone of the book
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I've just finished listening to Simon Callow's wonderful audio reading of this and thought I'd have another look at the television adaptation of one of my favourite novels. Simon captures the tone and irony perfectly but this film doesn't do the book justice. Brideshead was a television masterpiece and Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things caught that generation in its lens, but this gives it an easy ride.

It's one of the most bitter and cruel novels in English fiction, with one or two genuinely shocking lines. The charge of misogyny has been levelled at Waugh, as it's the women characters who come off worse; particularly the grotesque and faithless Brenda Last; but unfortunately, I don't recognise the beautiful Kristen Scott Thomas as her. That moral shallowness is more bored ennui here, where Waugh's character suggests a harder, cold indifference and a selfish cruelty just below the surface. James Wilby, similarly, is no Tony Last; and doesn't convince as the emotionally starched and impoverished owner of the fading country pile, Hetton; as far from the bright lights and casual assignations of London as is the tropical heart of darkness in the Brazilian jungle. Tony's just too boyish and lightweight here to embody those values of English decency and tradition in their twilight years. Neither does John Beaver suggest enough intention or agency in his character. The irony and cruelty needs to be pointed and foregrounded much more than it is. Some of the minor grotesque characters are either missing or underplayed; the wonderful Mrs Rattray (Aviatrix and morphineuse in the novel if I recall correctly) is completely undercooked, and the awful Princess Abdul Akbar missed casting all together. They supply a lot of the colour in the novel.Other characters come out quite well on the whole; particularly Jock Menzies who is just right as Tony's more worldly wise friend and confidant - but even faithful Jock can't be trusted in the end.

The scenes in Brighton work well enough; with that shocking line, given the context, that the gauche Winnie utters about her damp underwear. The Brazilian coda also works well with Alec Guinness convincing as the Dickens loving (And Dickens like character) Mr Todd. Throughout this novel, names are important clues to character and fate. Tony Last, arguably one of the unluckiest and most undeserving victims in modern fiction, is punished for his innocence and emotional blindness. A fool and certainly naive at first, he redeems himself before setting off on his fateful expedition. This adaptation manages to show this in the end, but it failed along the way to hold a spoiled generation to account; a generation for whom war had changed nothing. Waugh tore them apart, deservedly; but this lets them off the hook,and gives its 1980s audience another easy costume drama. Check out the Simon Callow audiobook instead.
9 people found this helpful
Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United Kingdom on 03 May 2021
3.0 out of 5 stars
Film recommended, video quality inferior
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I've always thought this Waugh adaption is very good, particularly if you're not already familiar with the novel and therefore are following the dialogue and happenings more freshly. It isn't perfect, it's a take, and overall very successful, grasped more in the translation of the entire effect of the novel, creating a worid in itself. (Not too unlike the far sight of F Scott Fitzgerald's finest world in Gatsby of the novel, I think).

Anyway this review is really just about the Amazon video streaming quality. It's poor. I had the VHS in the late 90s,and this online streamed digitisation looks just like someone has grabbed my old tape and connected it up to a computer and captured it at home. (The VHS itself was pretty notable to me in the first place for being not good VHS video quality.)

As with the old VHS, you do get used to the quality as the film goes on, and I would say that it is worth renting this film anyway. It's not about the video quality (whilst it could be also, in a good way, if a new transfer were to be possible).

Currently, the film is available for Prime subscribers at no extra cost. Otherwise, it may be worth looking into whether or not the DVD quality is any better. (It might be the same digitisation as streaming. I don't know.)
One person found this helpful
duck soupReviewed in the United Kingdom on 18 February 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Love and Waugh
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Don't be fooled by the Sunday afternoon ambiance, this one's diamond-hard and cuts to the last.

What strikes us at once in Handful of Dust is the rich heritage feel as we open into the casual splendour of old money and all the beeswaxed marvels of the country pile, it's a seductive ploy of course and like many of Evelyn Waugh's tales we are at first dazzled by the articles of privilege -and our director colludes in this with aplomb.

But no soon as we're accustomed to the stately pace, the London set come calling and the somewhat austere marriage of our hosts, old world aristocrat Tony Last and airy socialite Brenda, is assailed by the sound and fury of the new age.

It's widely supposed key events in Handful of Dust are derived from Waugh's troubled first marriage and it's fair to say the tone of the novel veers between tragedy and caustic satire, perhaps the main weakness in this film version is that we find little trace of the latter quality; most of the social circle seem largely benign which renders their iniquities needlessly obscure. Even the family seat is not nearly the frump we're invited to believe.

In final reckoning, Handful of Dust is an affecting and substantial work with immaculate visual style. Highlights include Alec Guinness as the uniquely sinister Mr Todd, Stephen Fry and Anjelica Huston make welcome appearances too along with a raft of British screen notables.

As reserved as the film may seem, it nonetheless succeeds in landing the necessary blows and viewers not already acquainted with the novel will surely be inspired to investigate further.
One person found this helpful
R. DaviesReviewed in the United Kingdom on 15 August 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars
Intelligent, well cast drama
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The story, set during the inter-war period, centres on the uppercrust Lasts, an ill-matched couple who are detached from "society" due to his reserved, asocial personality. As his name suggests, he is the "last" of a dying breed of entitled, privileged, unaccountable aristocrats, although he strives to recreate his Victorian idyll in their unfashionable pile, telling his son what is expected of people of their class. He is a gentle, essentially decent man but his modern and outgoing wife is bored and unhappy, and ripe for adventure...

Mrs Beaver, played by Judi Dench, is a middle- class arriviste with an eye for an opportunity. Also aptly named, she works diligently and tirelessly to ensure her son's prosperity. Her courteous, gentle villainy is matched only by that of Stephen Fry, who excels in his scene as the smiling, steely brother of Brenda Last.

Minor characters include exquisitely clad party-girls with nothing much to do, such as Brenda's sister who does little to discourage her sister's dubious decision. There are also scenes of lazy, wealthy types in gentlemen's clubs, parties, restaurants, the hunt.

Jock and his American friend serve to remind us that not everyone is vacuous and cruel, although there is a back story, unexplored, about the American's children, which begs questions about her past behaviour.

It's a pessimistic and cynical story, clever, scrupulous and well acted. Scott Thomas' scene when she finds out about events at the hunt is one of the most powerful and sickening I've seen.

Fans of quality period drama should enjoy this film.
14 people found this helpful
Colette DewsReviewed in the United Kingdom on 23 April 2022
3.0 out of 5 stars
Well edited with lots of scenes taken out
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Of course it’s well adapted from the novel and I really enjoyed the original version seen in 1989. I was disappointed that so much footage has been taken out and it is too fragmented to really understand the depth of the story.
Would have preferred to have seen the full version as it was so satisfying.
NorwegianReviewed in the United Kingdom on 13 June 2014
5.0 out of 5 stars
Strong portrait of life
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This is a portrait of how cruel reality can be when it comes to love and divorces.
Almost painful to watch the way Kristin Scott-Thomas here gives life to her character as a beauty leaving her husband. Showing the fact that women usually more easy delete the memories of the men they leave.
The husband she is leaving behind here, really suffers from the loss of her.

To love, and not be loved back, can ruin a life forever. This is a heartbreaking story of the fact that "a happy divorce" is a questionable expression used to often.
Probably by just one of the involved, when the other part in pride tries to live like this is the truth for both.
These actors really manage to give life to this tragic drama.
7 people found this helpful
JLPReviewed in the United Kingdom on 08 January 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
Brilliant book, stands the test of time
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I read this book at school longer ago than I care to think about- decided to re visit.
Absolutely brilliant piece of writing- as a person who had greater insight into the machinations of the world now than when I first read it, i find it is both chilling and wickedly amusing.
The characters are beautifully wrought-
Fantastic read and highly recommend.
Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United Kingdom on 26 April 2008
4.0 out of 5 stars
Finely honed film about thoughtless interpersonal cruelty.
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A great adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel about self absorbed people in relationships but oblivious to their partners feeling to the point of sadistic cruelty.

I wanted to kick Tony Last (James Wilbey) as he placidly accepts his wife's sudden decision to have a London flat, study economics whilst he remains in his beloved country house. Brenda Last (Kristin Scott Thomas) is of course having an affair with frankly boring self seeking penniless John Beaver (Rupert Graves), supported by his rather nasty mother (Judi Dench).

Highly recommended and absorbing film about people you would never want to know.
11 people found this helpful
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