Based on Wilkie Collins' 1852 novel, "Basil" stars Jared Leto as the hero of the title. Basil, son of rich and aristcratic father Derek Jacobi, falls in love with beautiful but mystrious girl Julia (Claire Forlani). The problem is, Basil knew that his stern father would never acknowledge the daughter of merchant as his future bride, so in spite of his better judgment and advice from his friend Manion (Christian Slater), he continues his relations a secret until terrible truth is found out.
As is with many Collins' novels, the story is melodramatic and full of surprises, but the film seems to be too full of them. Every five minute you see something happen, which is certainly enjoyable. However, as far as emotional power goes, "Basil" is far from convincing. When the film should be sensual, it fails to be so, leaping to the next scene without raising the tension that should have come from, say, the clandestine meetings between Basil and Julia. There is no thrilling descriptions of ever-changing love and distrust found in works like "Wings of the Dove." The same can be said about the frail father-son relation in Basil's family, which should have been more explored.
My material says the writer/director Radha Bharadwaj (known for Madeleine Stowe film "Closet Land") was very impressed with the original book when she was 12 years old. Born and raised in India, the director clearly is conscious of social class and gender, so the book's thriller part is reduced to certain degree, and instead the contrast between men and women, or traditional aristocracy and new middle-class is stressed.
Her decision is understandable, but I don't know if it was a good idea to adapt the novel that way. And you should know that "Basil" is usually considered as one of Wilkie's juvenile works (only his second novel published during his lifetime) His major works are still "The Moonstone" or "The Woman in White" both of which are filmed in 1990s for British TV. So why "Basil"? That part remains vague after watching the film.
The best thing in the film is no doubt Claire Forlani. But her fans should be told beforehand that though Ms. Forlani in blue costume (standing besides beautiful birds) is gorgeous and exquisite, her charms do not materialize to the full because of too fast speed of story. Chrstian Slater (who also co-produced) and Jared Leto are not so bad, handsome as ever, but it is painfully obvious that they are Americans.
One final word for Collins fans. Don't get angry. The film takes GREAT liberty when it shows Clara not as Basil's sister; when Margaret Sherwin is changed to Julia Sherwin (does this mean that 'Margaret' is no longer a popular name?); and when Manion walks outside without a hat on his head even though you know that no confidential clerk of respectable merchant does that.
As Victorian constume drama "Basil" is just a so-so film. You don't have to hurry to watch it.
Basil's elder brother Ralph is played by Crispin Bonham Carter, cousin of Helena.