By Kerr, Philip
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 131, No. 4578
Five years after Columbus discovered America, another Italian, named Giovanni Caboto, sailing a ship owned by the English king, Henry VII, stumbled upon a lump of rock in the North Atlantic about 400 miles wide. Caboto glanced over the island and, already bored to distraction, could think of no other suitable name for his rock than New Found Land. Then, worried that the folks back in Genoa would laugh at him for discovering the world's largest bird sanctuary, and in the hope that his discovery might be blamed on the English, Caboto changed his name. It says everything about the people of Newfoundland that they did not follow Caboto's example and do the same for their island. Wisely, John Cabot, as now we know him better, disappeared off the face of the earth in 1498. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Newfoundland. This, the newest province of Canada (it was incorporated in 1949), is a place so dull that even Canadians feel emboldened to make jokes about it; and the only visitors they ever get there a re the hapless Concorde passengers who are sometimes obliged to put down at Gander Airport for eight hours when the plane's Amstrad stops working.
I have been able to discover only three interesting facts about Newfoundland: one, Newfoundland is home to an eponymous breed of large dog -- a dog so stupid that it tries to fetch not sticks from the sea, but drowning Newfoundlanders; two, E Annie Proulx wrote a tedious novel about Newfoundland that won the Pulitzer Prize; and three, there are no cinemas on the island -- which is perhaps not such a bad thing, because at least the Newfies will be spared watching The Shipping News, Lasse Hallstrom s very boring film of Proulx's equally boring book.
Think of Wolfgang Petersen's movie The Perfect Storm, but without the storm, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this film, starring Kevin Spacey, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Judi Dench, is like. Even in the absence of plucky Finisterre, BBC Radio's Shipping Forecast provides more and better entertainment. In short, the script would have made a marvellous libretto for English National Opera, especially as the film includes a scene where Dame Judi is seated on the lavatory.
Spacey plays Quoyle. a sleepy-eyed, woolly-hatted dullard who is the diametric opposite of the smart, anarchic character he played in American Beauty. Abandoned by his no-good wife, Petal Bear (played by Blanchett -- an actress whose fat lips and prominent cheekbones lend her a pugilistic air), Quoyle and his precocious young daughter are taken under the wing of his Aunt Agnis (Dench). Her solution to the problems of this dysfunctional family is that they should all leave the US and start a new life at their family's ancestral home in Newfoundland. …