Dreaming of Joseph Lees

USA/UK 1998

Reviewed by Kieron Corless


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Somerset, 1958. Unaware that his cousin Eva has been in love with him since they were teenagers, Joseph left England to pursue his geological career. He is now a recluse since an accident left him with an artificial leg. Local farmer Harry attempts to seduce Eva but she still dreams of Joseph and resists his advances. Eva is distraught when her father refuses to let her travel to a relative's funeral which Joseph will attend. She is increasingly attracted to Harry despite herself. After two months of courtship, she refuses marriage but moves in with him at his farm, with her father's blessing.

Eva finally meets Joseph at a family wedding where they discover a strong mutual attraction. Harry realises Joseph has supplanted him in Eva's affections. As his grasp on sanity becomes more precarious, Harry threatens suicide. He has sex with a local woman which drives Eva into Joseph's arms. Eva rejoins Harry when she hears his condition has worsened. Harry tries to saw one of his legs off; while he recuperates, Joseph arrives and implores Eva to go to Italy with him. Her final decision remains ambiguous.


"Follow your heart," counsels Eva's father when she declares her intention to move in with boyfriend Harry. Typical advice in the context of a romantic psychodrama, if a shade implausible from a 50s patriarch. Ironic too that Eva, unbeknownst to him, is acting on it in such a roundabout fashion. Her decision to live in sin is partly for expediency's sake, leaving her options open should her true love Joseph return. Eva's combination of sly opportunism and strategic romanticism seems calculated to resonate with modern audiences, but Eric Styles' debut feature is a timid, undercooked affair.

Dreaming of Joseph Lees unfolds at a brisk pace but its unwillingness to loiter means we never really explore the implications of the unfolding events or, more frustratingly, get a chance to probe the characters' motivations. Eva's love for her cousin, for instance, is presented as a given and we never really explore the reasons behind her prolonged obsession. Rupert Graves in the underwritten role of Joseph sleepwalks through the film looking understandably bemused by it all.

Harry's plunge into madness effectively kills off any chance of a full-blooded triangular drama, leaving Eva merely to resolve her conflict between duty and passion, and reducing him from a charismatic seducer to a rustic simpleton. And if the dramatic tone of the film varies wildly, its laboured visual style remains honey-coated throughout, with Styles demonstrating a particular fondness for light snaking through windows, drenching everything in an amber glow. The dreams of the title are principally figured as softly lit mood pieces lifted from Athena posters (aptly enough for a film so astonishingly coy about Eva's sexuality and unconscious life), while the overwrought score puffs and pants unremittingly towards emotional overkill.

Apart from Frank Finlay's enjoyably acerbic turn as Eva's father, Samantha Morton provides the film's sole interest. Morton's debut in Under the Skin revealed a brave, edgy talent, and in the penultimate scene here she pulls off a minor miracle. Joseph's arrival at the farmhouse finally confronts Eva with the stark choice of leaving with him or staying to tend Harry. She turns Joseph away initially, and for once the camera fixes at length on Eva as she collapses in the hallway alone, her face a riot of incomprehension and anguished conflict. Despite our total disengagement hitherto, the raw self-exposure and tensile force in Morton's performance here is credible and moving. The film stumbles on to a bizarre, snatched ending, but the prospect of this extraordinary actress returning to more challenging material in the future is a genuinely tantalising one.


Christopher Milburn
Catherine Linstrum
Director of Photography
Jimmy Dibling
Caroline Limmer
Production Designer
Humphrey Jaeger
Zbigniew Preisner
©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Production Companies
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a Christopher Milburn production in association with The Isle of Man Film Commission
Executive Producer
Mark Thomas
Line Producer
Matthew Kuipers
Associate Producer
Chris Harris
Production Co-ordinator
Paige Nunnerley
London Co-ordinator
Stéphane Jaggers
Location Managers
Caroline Cox
Paul Morton
Post-production Supervisors
Michael Solinger
Jatinderpal Chohan
Assistant Directors
Alison B. Matthews
Pauline Oni
Ian Hutchinson
Script Supervisor
Amanda Jane Lean
Liora Reich
Carrie Hilton
Jay-Dee Promotions
2nd Unit Camera Operators
Trevor Coop
David Shillingford
Aerial Shots Camera
Gifford Hooper
2nd Unit Steadicam
Jamie Fowlds
Digital Effects
Men in White Coats
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Tony Auger
Art Director
Lucy Nias
Set Decorators
Richard Tongé
Colin Ellis
Costume Designer
Maggie Chappelhow
Costume Supervisor
Tina Hackett-James
Wardrobe Mistress
Amanda Cole
Chief Make-up Artist/Hair Stylist
Julie Van Praag
Hair Stylist
Paula Price
Title Design
Janice Mordue
General Screen Enterprises
Music Performed by
The Philharmonia Orchestra
Dorota Slezak
Jacek Ostaszewski
Leszek Mozdzer
Alex Maguire
John Parricelle
Bass Guitar:
Andy Pask
David Corkhill
Kevin Hathway
Jews Harp:
Alasdair Malloy
Jacek Kaspszyk
Music Supervisor
Jem Shuttleworth
Music Editor
Andrew Glen
Rafal Paczkowski
Additional Engineering
Geoff Foster
"Fever" by John Davenport, Eddie Cooley, performed by Peggy Lee; "Alright, Okay, You Win" by Wyche, Watts, arranged by Dyfan Jones, performed by Siân James & The Manx Jazz Aces
Mary Mitchell
Sound Mixer
Phil Edward
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Alban
Supervising Sound Editor
Paul Davies
Dialogue Editor
Stewart Henderson
Pete Smith
Jack Stew
Felicity Cottrell
Jeremy Price
Boxing Coach
Harry Selby
Stunt Co-ordinators
Richard Hammatt
Rod Woodruff
Animal Wranglers
Gordon Clague
Valerie Hanmer
Andrea Ball
Aerial Shots Pilot
Phillip George
Samantha Morton
Eva Babbins
Lee Ross
Harry Flite
Miriam Margolyes
Signora Caldoni
Frank Finlay
Eva's father
Nick Woodeson
Mr Dian
Holly Aird
Maria Flite, Harry's sister
Rupert Graves
Joseph Lees
Felix Billson
Robert Babbins, Eva's brother
Lauren Richardson
Janie Babbins, Eva's sister
Vernon Dobtcheff
Italian doctor
Freddie Douglas
Richie Tongé
nude model
Harry Selby
1st boxer
Juan Thomas
Emma Cunniffe
red-haired girl
Siân James
Dyfan Jones
double bass player
Doug Davidson
saxophone player
Terry Quayle
Don Elliott
trumpet player
Jim Caine
Peter Gardner
Ken Ingham
Anthony Hannan
wedding guest
Margaret John
Aunt Margaret
Julian Symmonds
2nd boxer
20th Century Fox (UK)
8,263 feet
91 minutes 49 seconds
Colour by
DeLuxe London
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011