An Oscar winner for 'Amadeus' (and also for 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest') Czech director Milos Forman returns to period drama with 'Goya's Ghosts', a study of cowardice, duplicity and repression during the Spanish Inquisition and in the years following the French Revolution.

Despite being a painter to the King of Spain, artist Francisco Goya (Skarsgard) has nevertheless incurred the wrath of the Spanish Inquisition. But Goya is defended by Brother Lorenzo (Bardem), a monk who has commissioned a portrait from him and who uses his defence of the artist to further his own career.

Among Goya's other subjects is Ines (Portman), the daughter of the rich merchant Tomas Bilbatua (Gómez), who is detained by the Inquisition and accused of practicing Jewish rituals. Knowing that Goya is friends with Brother Lorenzo, Tomas Bilbatua asks the artist to use his influence on the cleric. But Brother Lorenzo is far from the paragon of virtue he makes himself out to be, and his encounter with Ines will change both their lives.

Working with his longtime production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe ('The Sea Inside', 'The Others') and screenwriting legend Jean-Claude Carrière ('Belle du Jour', 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'), Forman has made a film which is beautiful to look at and, for the first hour, powered by a very compelling storyline. Tapping into themes of censorship, Catholic church scandals and even the 'war on terror', 'Goya's Ghosts' looks all set to be a film that will carve itself in the memory.

But once the story moves ahead 20 years, 'Goya's Ghosts' loses much of its allure and feels rushed, with the script failing to focus on the main players properly - leaving you to wonder if a lot was lost in editing. And your waning interest isn't helped by the fact that there's no-one on screen that you bond with. Skarsgard doesn't convince as the reluctant hero, Bardem's great turn as Brother Lorenzo in the first half of the film isn't as interesting in the second while Portman, here playing two characters, both with comical false teeth, doesn't stand out as either.

Harry Guerin