If you are at all familiar with Edgar Allan Poe, you might find the synopsis for Stonehearst Asylum familiar. That’s because it’s based on Poe’s The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether, a short story concerning a man who visits an insane asylum to learn more about their unusual methods for treating insanity and discovers, to his horror that the inmates have taken over the asylum and have locked up the doctors.
I find asylums fascinating and thoroughly depressing at the same time. Knowing how those places operated and how many women were needlessly sent off to lunatic asylums so they were no longer a burden to their husbands. So any asylum setting catches my interest and with actors like Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine I thought I’d give it a go.
Jim Sturgess is Doctor Edward Newgate who shows up to gain insight into the various procedures carried out at the asylum. He is honest and shows genuine concern for the patients he encounters. One of whom he rather quickly becomes besotted with, enter Kate Beckinsale.
More has been added to bulk up Poe’s short story including this character called Eliza played by Kate Beckinsale who is a patient at the asylum and who suffers from hysteria. To be honest I wasn’t that keen on this branch of the storyline. I’m not a big fan of Beckinsale, her character was something of a non entity which is interesting considering the film was originally titled Eliza Graves.
Eliza is an accomplished pianist but that is really all I can tell you about her, she is as bland as dry toast. That said, it’s a very Poe-like thing to do, throw in a tragic and beautiful woman and a small part of me liked that, despite being fed up to the back teeth with tragic beautiful women who require saving. Ain’t nobody got time for that! But it is very Poe.
Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine are on top form, as you might imagine and they bring a sense of gravitas to the film.
Caine is Doctor Salt the man in charge of the asylum who is now languishing in a cell, Doctor Salt was a cruel man who used barbaric means to try and rehabilitate his patients, although these barbaric means were common treatments at the time. Kingsley’s character Silas Lamb is in the asylum for killing several men during the war and was a patient of Dr Salt’s and Silas takes great delight in playing doctor and seeing Doctor Salt in a position of weakness.
Jim Sturgess is rather captivating as the visiting doctor, his naivety and forthright demeanor make you root for him. His dilemma of which group to align with, if at all, is interesting. Should he choose to free the real doctors from their cells or allow Silas to continue running the asylum?
There are a few nice twists and turns in the story and the flashbacks used to help fill in the blanks of character’s past are well done. There’s a lot of good in the film but sadly it’s lacking a little something. Perhaps it’s the plot twist being revealed too early in the film, perhaps it’s the inclusion of a romance with little chemistry whatever it is, something is missing.
That said, I enjoyed watching Stonehearst Asylum. It’s a bit campy in places but that just adds to the fun factor. It’s enjoyable throw away Poe, much like The Raven.
Stonehearst Asylum is released in the UK on the 24th of April.