Directed by James Ivory, starring Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave and Madeleine Potter.

There isn't much that will appeal to the masses in the latest offering from production company Merchant Ivory but, then again, it has never been known for producing entertaining blockbusters.

Merchant Ivory has become, over the years, more associated with works of high art and literary genius, hence the ties with author Kazuo Ishiguro. It also seems fitting that 'The White Countess' will be released almost one year after the founder of Merchant Ivory, Ismail Merchant, passed away while completing work on the production.

Scripted by Ishiguro, 'The White Countess' is set in 1930s China and tells the story of the strange relationship between blind American diplomat Mr Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) and a Russian Countess, Sofia (Natasha Richardson), who has fled her home country with her dead husband's family.

Jackson has lost his wife and children to subsequent tragedies. He simply wants to enjoy his life in Shanghai and possibly open a bar where he will be able to entertain and encourage intellectual debates. Sofia is making a living for her ungrateful in-laws by working in gentlemen's clubs where she is paid to dance with suitors, something that her family frowns upon.

Jackson encounters Sofia at her club and, upon securing an establishment, offers her a permanent position as the figurehead of his new bar, The White Countess. The new position offers her the chance to live something approaching a normal life with her daughter, but her in-laws are eager to move on to Japan, where they believe they will be treated like nobility once more. As their friendship starts to develop into something stronger, Sofia and Jackson are torn apart by the prospect of war, family conflict and Jackson's business interests.

A simple enough plot with very little to it so this should have been an entertaining romance. But it is not. This is one of the most drawn out features ever to reach the cinema screen. While the settings, cinematography and costumes are excellent, there is little to relate to, or feel sympathetic towards, in the assembled characters. Even the prospect of a Japanese invasion adds little in the way of excitement.

This is possibly the worst performance Fiennes has ever given and even Sofia's daughter Katya (Potter) is nauseating at the best of times.

The last collaboration between director James Ivory and author Kazuo Ishiguro gave us the wonderful 'The Remains of the Day' over ten years ago. Their new project fails to entertain in even the slightest of ways.

Patrick Kennedy