The Cinder Path (1994)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I have had the opportunity to see several films based on
Catherine Cookston's best-selling novels and never once
have I been impressed. Perhaps it's due to the fact that
she empathizes with the underdog despite the fact that
he or she is villainous by their own intentions. Maybe
it's the fact that "true love" should always win
despite marital circumstances, and that never once are
her heroes pressed to forgive rather than seek revenge.
Thus said, The Cinder Path is pretty standard par.
In a little town somewhere in the British countryside, life is fairly
normal to those who pass by... but for those who come to stay, chilling
would be the most apt word to describe the home of Charlie McFell (Lloyd
Owen). His abusive, adulterous and cruel father takes a strong stand for
himself, abusing his unhappy wife and fretful sister, laying the switch to
the child whenever he gets out of line, and even going so far as to inflict
punishment on the servants when they dare cross him. Those deserving of
punishment are taken to the path behind the house where the cinders are
dropped and forced to crawl on bare hands and knees down the long expanse of
jagged rock. Cruelty breeds contempt and soon all members of the household
grow to loathe him, although few would dare stand against him. His latest
victim is the newest member of the stable crew, who bears a grudge against
the family despite Charlie's compassionate apologies and attempts to make
right the situation. As he grows older, the situation grows increasingly
worse. The pressures for Charlie to wed the beautiful but deceitful Victoria
Chapmen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are coming full force.
Their parents are favorable toward the match, since it would create an
alliance between their lands and estates... but the truth is, Victoria's
younger sister Nellie (Maria Miles) has secretly loved Charlie since
childhood. Blinded by Victoria's beauty, he is unable to see the truth of
what she truly is... a sly, cunning and devious creature who twists men to
use for her own advantage. But a love triangle becomes the least of his
problems when revenge comes full-force upon the family, leaving devastation
behind. The head stableman Arthur (Ralph Ineson) has heard of old man
McFell's wicked plans involving his sister Polly and takes action to protect
her. Charlie is just in time to witness a provoked riding accident that
unintentionally manages to successfully kill McFell. Knowing the scandal and
questions that will follow and also aware of general prejudice toward his
father, Charlie agrees to cover up the truth; to make it appear as it was
meant to be -- an accident.
However, little known to the two murderers, their act has been witnessed by
the very stable hand who was dealt a cruel punishment in the cinder path.
And with the pressing and upcoming war against the Germans, Charlie finds
himself caught between the truth and deception from every angle. Although it
professes to be a romance, The Cinder Path is more the story of human
evil and the desire for revenge than a tale of love. I found the story
sinister in intention and without any redeeming value. Victoria is a spoiled
brat who gives herself freely to any man that comes along and cheats on
Charlie regularly after their marriage. Nellie becomes an alcoholic and
nearly drinks herself to oblivion. Arthur seems punished enough by the
casualties of war for his evil deed when he winds up no longer entirely
whole; and Charlie's sister turns on him partway through and swindles him
out of his inheritance. Everyone's a cad and there's no one to root for.
Content wise, language is moderate, mostly containing uses of
"My God!" Violence, however, comes in Spades with warfare,
verbal and physical abuse, cruelty, and a riding accident in
which a man's head is struck upon a rock, instantly killing him.
A woman is threatened with being strangled. Victoria has
men in and out of the house after her separation from her
husband; once she and an officer of the army are caught in the
act of kissing and embracing. Nellie and Charlie kiss and
embrace numerous times before his divorce becomes final. (It's
still adultery.) Victoria does get what she deserves in the end
and Charlie learns he's not the failure that he thought he was.
His strength comes with maturity, but is sometimes ill-used,
although he proves a kind man and surprisingly benevolent in the
case of his morally-skewed wife. He risks everything to save a
man's life and is later almost killed in the war. In closing, I
find a lot of things morally wrong with this story
-- everyone gets away with their sins; hatefulness is repaid by hate.
Even Gone With the Wind, with its on-the-line story has
more value than
The Cinder Path. It makes one wonder if cruelty, violence, and a
depressing climax are what make a classic.