Movie Review: Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

(Spoiler alert: I reveal the movie's ending towards the end of this post!) In 1990, two romantic movies involving a deceased boyfriend and a love story were released in theaters. One of these, Ghost, was a huge commercial success, grossing over $505 million at the box office, driven by the star power of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg.

The second movie, Truly, Madly, Deeply -- starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman -- only earned just over $1.5 million. But because I've always felt that our friends across the pond do stage and screen much better than us Americans, there's no question which of these movies is (in my opinion) the superior film. Ghost was well-done and entertaining, but Truly, Madly, Deeply (I'll refer to it as TMD) is beautifully acted, delivers more heartfelt emotion, and most importantly, makes you think. (Come to think of it, one critic declared it "the thinking person's Ghost." And well, I do love to think, after all.)

And since we lost Alan Rickman the same week as David Bowie, at the same age (69) and also from cancer, TMD is worthy of some accolades because it featured Rickman in a romantic role (when his death was announced here in the States, it was mostly his villainous characters from Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that were cited.)

What I appreciate most about this movie is how realistic the emotions are portrayed, so much so that it's easy to forget Rickman and Stevenson are acting. When Stevenson sobs, "I miss him, I miss him, I miss him!" and declares that she hates seeing couples in love in her therapist's office, your heart is breaking for her. When she's clowning around with Rickman, you're smiling because it's how a real couple acts; it's completely natural. There's nothing corny or contrived about this film (except for the romantic gestures of Stevenson's Polish-born landlord.) TMD was written and directed by the late Anthony Minghella, known for The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

On a personal note, I first saw TMD for the first time a few years after my father and the man who had been the first love of my life passed away (within 5 months of each other) and seeing this movie and the message behind it helped me put my lingering mourning behind me. Watching it again recently reaffirmed that it should be on any list of required Valentine's Day movies -- whether you've lost someone close to you or not.

Now for the movie's plot...Stevenson plays Nina, a translator working for a language agency who is still depressed over the death of her cellist boyfriend, Jamie (Rickman.) We don't know how long ago Jamie passed away, but it was sudden according to Nina's boss, who tells the men fixing her rat-infested apartment that Jamie died from a strep virus. For a while, Nina has been hearing Jamie's voice in her head, instructing her on how to brush her teeth properly and to make sure the back door is locked.

One night, Nina's sister suggests that Nina give up Jamie's cello for her son who is learning the instrument and it pushes her into another low mood. That's when Jamie suddenly manifests in the apartment. It's up to interpretation whether Jamie is a ghost or a figment of Nina's imagination, though personally I think it's the former, since he's always complaining about being cold (a downside to being dead, I guess) and talks about continuing to drop in on political rallies, something he was passionate about.

Naturally, Nina is ecstatic at having Jamie and his company back in her life; she misses several days of work as a result. But the miracle soon becomes more than she bargained for when Jamie starts doing little things that annoy her beyond the usual inability to put a toilet seat down. He starts rearranging her furniture. He cranks the heat up to uncomfortable levels. Furthermore, he starts to get annoyed with her, even remarking at one point, "I'd forgotten you could be like this" after springing on her that he has invited some of his ghostly bros to her apartment to watch videos all night long.

He also makes himself scarce when somebody rings Nina's doorbell and their time together is confined to the apartment; it's not like Nina can go out to eat with him or to dinner parties (although it's never confirmed it seems that Nina is the only living person who can actually see and touch Jamie.)

Although I normally consider him attractive, even I find Rickman to be a little annoying in this film; his character at times is a little droll and grump -- especially in contrast to Nina's cheerful nature.

At the same time Jaime and Nina's relationship begins getting strained, she starts crossing paths with a quirky psychologist, Mark (Michael Maloney), that she first encounters in a restaurant, then on a bus. Mark seems like a good guy; he's a psychologist working with mentally disabled adults and he's capable of performing magic tricks. Nina agrees to go out with Mark and while she is attracted to him, feels conflicted because of Jaime's presence back at home.

As Nina and Jaime's relations become more strained (and more of his friends from the other side invade the apartment), the couple begins to realize that their relationship probably wasn't the grand sweeping romance they had idealized it to be. "Was it always this way?" Nina asks one evening. She remembers how she hid away many of her personal belongings because Jaime didn't approve of them. She is soon confronted by a choice: she can stay in the past with her life with Jaime or she can move forward and create a new one.

The movie ends on a bittersweet note with Jaime, smiling and wiping back tears, with his friends watching as Nina is greeted by Mark in front of her apartment and she leaves with him.

Some fans of this movie believe that Jamie's return -- whether imagined by Nina or real -- was necessary to heal her heart and help her eventually move on.

It's a lovely little film, worthy of a view, and currently uploaded to YouTube if you want to check it out. Here's the trailer:


  1. Nice summary and review of this great film. As with many British productions it is more subtle and complex than Ghost which goes straight for the heart strings, and loads in the Righteous Brothers to bring the emotions to the boil. Juliet Stevenson is a strangely underused actor even in the UK.

    1. Thanks, Johnny; I'm glad to hear some people appreciate this movie. I've seen Juliet Stevenson in a few productions on PBS and occasionally in other films. "Ghost" was a little too hokey for me and I agree about the Righteous Brothers; LOL.


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