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The White Countess (2005)



Average Rating: 5.9/10
Reviews Counted: 88
Fresh: 44 | Rotten: 44

High production values and fine performances get bogged down by a lifeless story that fails to engage the viewer.


Average Rating: 6/10
Critic Reviews: 30
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 13

High production values and fine performances get bogged down by a lifeless story that fails to engage the viewer.



liked it
Average Rating: 2.9/5
User Ratings: 20,161

My Rating

Movie Info

James Ivory directed this historical drama of a man who has shut himself away from a world he cannot change. Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) is an American expatriate living in Shanghai in the late '30s. While Jackson was once an American diplomat who came to Shanghai with great optimism about China's future, the bitter political squabbling and military violence that are a part of daily life in China caused him to become bitterly disillusioned. Jackson also lost most of his sight, and he has


Drama, Romance, Art House & International

May 16, 2006


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All Critics (98) | Top Critics (35) | Fresh (44) | Rotten (44) | DVD (6)

It's a pretty journey, even if it is far too talky and emotionally distant to really work.

February 10, 2006 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A tale well told, a look at history in the making and those being shaken in the process.

February 3, 2006 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
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A tedious, overblown bit of business.

February 3, 2006 Full Review Source: Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press
Top Critic IconTop Critic

... The White Countess is so bloodless it all but cries for a transfusion.

January 27, 2006 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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The White Countess, although it has its share of Masterpiece Theatre moments, is another film to remind us just how cosmopolitan is the Merchant-Ivory filmography.

January 27, 2006 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

While a beautiful and moving film, The White Countess, sadly falls short of being a great one because it never allows us into the hearts of its primary protagonists.

February 28, 2008 Full Review Source:

[Ivory] takes a tired, cliché-ridden, nostalgic screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro and layers on the ennui.

March 1, 2007 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

Esteticamente impecável (como todas as produções Merchant Ivory), o filme falha do ponto de vista narrativo, revelando-se, como seus personagens, excessivamente frio e emocionalmente distante.

May 31, 2006
Cinema em Cena

James Ivory has cast Britain's acting aristocracy to play post-Revolution Russian aristocracy, which brings much gravitas and many subtle performance highs to this drawn out story set in 1936/7 Shanghai.

April 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Urban Cinefile
Urban Cinefile

It has an emotional payoff. It isn't much, but by Merchant-Ivory standards it is an orgasm of raw emotion.

April 19, 2006 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Though [Merchant-Ivory] hadn't made a first-rate film since The Remains of the Day in 1993, there was always a chance they'd hit one last pitch out of the park. The White Countess, their final pairing, is just a bloop single.

February 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Charlotte Observer
Charlotte Observer

One of the great partnerships in movies ends not with a bang or even a whimper, but with a stifled yawn.

February 23, 2006 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

A middling example of the sort of tony projects upon which [Merchant and Ivory] built their reputations.

February 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

A beautiful movie with an intriguing central theme and cast that is far easier to admire than to actually like.

February 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

A little judicious editing might have made it more effective.

February 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Deseret News, Salt Lake City
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

James Ivory would have done well to take his from "Casablanca" since that similarly themed film achieves everything that this film aspires to but ultimately fails at.

February 17, 2006 Full Review Source:

A little too emotionally repressed to suit its melodrama -- imagine Casablanca with Paul Henried miscast in the Bogart role.

February 17, 2006
Salt Lake Tribune

The White Countess is the last Merchant-Ivory and embodies most of the virtues of the brand ...

February 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A worthy final collaboration from James Ivory and his late partner, Ismail Merchant.

February 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)
Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)

By sheer willpower (and some of the best art direction of this year or any other), this is a fitting, poetic epitaph to the life and career of Ismail Merchant.

February 11, 2006 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Merchant Ivory places its final, famous imprimatur on a worthy film.

February 10, 2006 Full Review Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The symbolism of the situation -- a blind diplomat trying, and once again failing, to stage-manage international harmony -- seems like something from a socially conscious play of the 1930s.

February 10, 2006
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

The final collaboration between Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, The White Countess, isn't their absolute best effort, but as swan songs go, it's still a sight more auspicious than the last-ever Simpson-Bruckheimer picture.

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Orlando Weekly
Orlando Weekly

Audience Reviews for The White Countess

A blind American diplomat and a exiled Russian countess join forces to build a jazz nightclub in Shanghai in the period leading up to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Typical of a Merchant/Ivory production, the set and costume design is lush and colorful, a work of art by itself. But also typical of their work, there is an awful lot of talk; in fact, most of the conflict in this film takes place in the past, the characters revealing tortured bits about themselves rather than the suspense created from watching conflict happen. The only scenes in which this flaw is not true are in the third act, far too late.
The highlights of the film are the performances by the brooding Ralph Fiennes and the glamorous Natasha Richardson. Both actors create sharp characters, and they make the too-talky exposition compelling just by their presence.
I think that many American audiences, many of whom haven't been exposed to Chinese history, will get lost, unable to place the political turmoil that backdrops the film's action. The White Countess is set in that odd time between the wars, and there are few clues to ground the setting. What is more, many Americans may not realize what a diverse, bustling metropolis Shanghai was at this time and why it is conceivable that the Russian aristocracy would be exiled there. Hopefully this film is an impetus to pick up a history book or two (if you actually go beyond Wikipedia, I recommend The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave).
Overall, The White Countess is by no means a great film, but it has a lot to offer for the right audience.
July 15, 2011
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

So there I was sittin on the couch scrolling through the guide when I see Ralph Fiennes. Automatically I hit record. I had barley any Idea wht this movie would be about. but, It had Ralph Fiennes and Jazz. Surpirse Surpirse, I LOOOVED IT!! Fiennes is without a doubt one of our greatest actros of the century! I cannot believe that He has yet to win an Oscar.
I was kind hoping from more romance between Ralph and Natasha Richardson (Who was amazing as well) but thats ok, Such a great movie with some very good performances!
January 20, 2010
Morgan Salem

Super Reviewer

Great cast, dull execution
March 22, 2008
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

[font=Century Gothic]"The White Countess" is set in Shanghai in 1936. Todd Jackson(Ralph Fiennes) is a former American diplomat blinded in an accident. During one particular bar crawl, he confides in a Japanese acquaintance, Matsuda(Hiroyuki Sanada), his dreams of owning his own bar. Jackson does not have the money for this purchase but considers making a very risky wager at the racetrack. Before Jackson is about to go home for the night, Sofia(Natasha Richardson) prevents two villains from mugging him and gains his gratitude. (She is a former Russian countess who has been a refugee after the 1917 Russian Revolution and dreams of the good old days. She works as a taxi dancer to support her extended family which includes her daughter. Nobody is thrilled with her profession, even though she seems to be the only breadwinner.) [/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"The White Countess" has all of the elements of a good movie including an intriguing setting and a great cast(including yet another fine performance from Ralph Fiennes who has the only memorable moment in the movie) but is done in by a lack a believability in key events and severe overlength. Overall, the movie comes off flat. Plus, the Redgrave sisters are large distractions. [/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
February 10, 2006
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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