"And so I headed off to the end of the world," narrates Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), the globe-trotting hero of period melodrama Silk. A French adventurer dispatched to Japan to secure the uncontaminated silkworm eggs needed to safeguard Europe's rag trade, this well-travelled merchant finds his mission compromised by his attraction to a warlord's concubine. For all its exotic detail, though, Francois Girard's film proves a cross-cultural yawn, as if taking its cue from Pitt's blank-faced blandness and Keira Knightley's anaemic support.
You'd think a tale involving no less than three separate voyages to the Far East would at least have momentum on its side. But, partly due to Pitt's droning voiceover, it is inert from the off, the only visible signs of life coming from Alfred Molina's robust turn as Joncour's roguish employer. ("I met Louis Pasteur the other day," he chuckles. "He's a pretty clever fellow!") A last-minute twist involving the provenance of a love letter, meanwhile, adds more humour than pathos, thanks to Herve's hilarious remark that it "took me five days to open". Those wax seals can be really fiddly, can't they?
"INERT FROM THE OFF"
Where Silk really unravels, however, is in its attempts to flesh out the part of Herve's stay-at-home wife, a character left deliberately shadowy in Alessandro Baricco's source novella but here embodied by Knightley as a simpering, maudlin nag. If you're curious why Pitt spends most of the story commuting between Gaul and the Orient, you don't have to look too far for the cause.
Silk is out in the UK on 9th November 2007.