"Do you have a pet patient?" Stella (Natasha Richardson) asks her stuffy psychologist husband (Hugh Bonnevile) in distinctly average 50s psychodrama Asylum. "You", he replies. Straitjacketed into one of those loveless marriages the movies tell us afflicted every English middle-class home before 1960, the restless Stella finds herself stuck at a clinically boring maximum security psychiatric hospital. Escape comes in the form of a series of sweaty, frantic trysts with a brooding inmate named Edgar.
Unfortunately, the trick to Edgar's (Martin Csokas) attractive, enigmatic nature is that he's dangerously insane. And his presence in Stella's life is not quite the accident it appears. Their meeting, like so much of this story, is orchestrated by the slick Dr Cleave (Ian McKellen), a malevolent little perv with designs on the hospital's top job. He revels in the role of puppet master, manipulating their obsessive personalities until several lives lay in tatters. A torrid and traumatic affair unfolds - think Lady And The Tramp meets Nympho And The Maniac - but it's McKellen's pernicious scheming that provides Asylum's real intrigue.
"MACKENZIE KEEPS THINGS ADMIRABLY SUCCINCT"
Closer writer Patrick Marber's screenplay, although dotted with some choice one-liners, moves too quickly through an eventful plot for plausibility to keep pace. At a little over 90 minutes, director David MacKenzie (Young Adam) keeps things admirably succinct, but emotions given room to grow in Patrick McGrath's original novel have little time to develop. The elegant Richardson, maintaining an inscrutable detachment in keeping with the cold psychology of the story, makes the most of an unusually juicy role. But it's not enough to make Asylum a movie to go crazy over.