Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) opens with the character of Nina (Juliet Stevenson) talking to her bereavement counsellor, explaining how she still feels the presence of her lover, Jamie, a cellist who recently died -- from a ridiculous sore throat -- all the time. As the interview continues she dissolves into tears. But these are not photogenic Hollywood tears; the grief portrayed is sheer gut-wrenching, nose-dripping stuff, and connects with the viewer at the deepest level. This scene sets the standard for Stevenson's performance throughout the movie, and it never falters.

Nina is completely disabled by Jamie's sudden death and has become disconnected from her life. She is unable to move on, despite support from loving friends and colleagues, including her boss Sandy (Bill Paterson), her smitten Polish neighbour (Christopher Rozycki), Maura, a pregnant customer (Stella Maris) at the translation agency where she works, and the man who is attempting to rid her run-down flat of rats (David Ryall).

So powerful is her grief, that it eventually draws Jamie (Alan Rickman) back from the dead. He appears as she plays piano, humming along the cello part that Jamie used to play -- the camera pans round to show him at the cello, and at first we think it's Nina's imagination, until it becomes clear that he is really there.

Of course Nina is ecstatic. But as time progresses we see that the ghost Jamie is no different from the man -- he is picky, he rearranges Nina's furniture while she is at work, he invites friends round to watch videos, though now, of course, all his friends are dead. And, being dead, he is permanently cold, so keeps the temperature of the flat at greenhouse level. He is no hero with a mission, he's just there because Nina needs him so badly that he cannot rest in peace. On the plus side though, he does get rid of the rats -- they won't stick around with a ghost.

Into this situation comes Mark (Michael Maloney), a teacher working with mentally handicapped adults. He and Nina connect and are attracted, but in order for their relationship to progress, she must let go of her loyalty to Jamie.

She struggles with her conscience and her love for Jamie, but after the birth of Maura's child, at which she is present, she makes the inevitable decision of Mark, and life, over Jamie, stagnation and the past.

Jamie leaves, regretful but satisfied, and the rats return.

On the surface this is a similar theme to the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie "Ghost", but it's on the surface that the similarities end. Truly, Madly, Deeply is a more intimate film, and it is concerned with love rather that romance. There is no subplot of crime or unfinished business, no glamour or glitz -- it is simply about coming to terms with loss, and moving on, if that can be described as simple.

Anthony Minghella, who won an Oscar for The English Patient wrote the script specifically to showcase the talents of Juliet Stevenson, which it does beautifully -- but the performances of all the main characters are flawless.

The film is rich with gentle humour as well as sadness and regret and is a must see for romantics -- especially those who appreciate subtlety and the understated.

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