Directed by István Szabó, starring Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, Dolly de Vries, Bruce Greenwood, Avice Crichton and Michael Gambon.

Adapted from W Somerset Maugham's 1937 novel 'Theatre', this movie is a riveting story about Julia Lambert (Bening), an ageing West End actress whose affair with a younger man poses a major threat to both her sanity and her career.

However, this is no one trick pony and the other characters add a refreshing depth. Of course it helps that the actors, with one exception, are absolutely superb and ensure that the end product from director István Szabó is a real treat. Although it may appeal predominantly to a mature audience, it is not difficult for younger generations to relate to Julia.

Despite being a manipulative and ungrateful prima donna, we maintain a fondness for Julia throughout, which is a testament to how well Bening portrays her. She is the main attraction in a theatre run by her husband Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), but finds herself disillusioned by the long-running, but highly successful plays favoured by her economically pragmatic other half. Julia bemoans the situation so regularly that her idle threats to take a prolonged break have become a well-rehearsed act.

She is re-invigorated when a young American with social aspirations called Tom Fennell (Evans) relentlessly pursues her and she eventually enters into an affair. The relationship is mutually beneficial to begin with, but as it progresses it becomes clear that Fennell is not as enamoured with Julia as he is with his quest to climb London's social ladder.

Unfortunately, Evans is a little out of his depth in the role. He just doesn't show enough charm, wit or cunning to convince us that a woman of Julia's intelligence and standing would fall for him and risk so much when he has so little to offer.

The other performances are brilliant, though, with Michael Gambon in particular excelling as the ghost of Julia's dead mentor Jimmy Langton. There are signs that the movie is flagging towards the end but they are merely red herrings. Do not leave before the credits, as the ending is just fantastic and will leave a wicked smile on your face.

Séamus Leonard