The Intended

The Intended, directed by Kristian Levring, takes place at an ivory trading settlement in the jungle of Sarawak, Malaysia, on the Menkuang River during 1924. Twentysomething Hamish Winslow (played by JJ Feild) and his fortysomething fiancée Sarah Morris (played by Janet McTeer) are aboard a barge headed for the settlement, Ivory Bay. When they arrive, they are greeted by hardnosed Mrs. Ethel Jones (played by Brenda Fricker), who has offered £400 for Hamish to survey a road that will be built through the jungle to the port of Batang; the amount in 1924, as Britain is struggling to pay back a wartime loan to American financiers, would make the couple very rich back home in England. After introducing Sarah as his “intended,” he learns that they are bunked together in one room of a two-room cottage with a third person, an elderly priest (played by David Bradley), in a room behind theirs rather than offered separate accommodations, as promised. When Hamish asks for £200 in advance, as contracted, Mrs. Jones counters that he will be paid the full amount only upon completion of the project, some six months away. Hamish then indicates that he will not stay, so Mrs. Jones offers him £50 as an advance and he remains. Meanwhile, the ship captain has brought a passport for disheveled William Jones (played by Tony Maudsley), the boss’ ineffectual thirty-five-year-old son; whereas his goals is to return to civilization, his mother refuses to approve his departure, which means of course that she will not give him any starting capital. When William gets wind that his mother intends to appoint her nephew, Norton (played by Philip Jackson) as her successor, he ties her up and leaves her overnight for the large jungle ants to devour her. Regularly masturbated by his nanny Erina (played by Olympia Dukakis), William now assumes control of the ivory operation. In time, while Hamish is in the jungle for days or weeks, Erina discloses that William has no money to pay Hamish for the job, but she will give up her life savings of a little more than £200 if Sarah will have sex with William. She refuses. One day, Hamish is carried home from the jungle, unconscious. With her fiancé possibly at death’s door, a prospect that would maroon her in the jungle for the rest of her life, Sarah makes a bargain with Erina. If Erina will watch over Hamish, she will have sex with William after all. The rest of the movie, filmed near Siburan and Wind Cave, plays out the many consequences of her decision. Deep in the jungle, the sun barely penetrates the clearing, thus providing a darkness that informs the filmviewer that The Intended is a noir yet retro film, one that might have been written in the 1920s as a stage play with a bygone moral in the genre of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel The Heart of Darkness.  MH

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