Asylum (2005)

A psychiatrist’s wife becomes involved with a dangerous patient.

Genre – Drama

Director(s) – David Mackenzie

Writer(s) – Patrick Marber and Chrysanthy Balis

Cast – Natasha Richardson, Martin Csokas and Hugh Bonneville

Blue Rider’s Role – Arranged bridge financing

Release Date – 2005

Synopsis – A psychiatrist’s wife encounters an inmate at the maximum security asylum at which he works, in the outskirts of London. Her attraction to this man, who was found guilty in the murder and disfigurement of his former wife, grows stronger as he’s begins to restore the asylum’s conservatory, just steps from her home.

Netflix is pointing its millions of DVD subscribers to five other films on which Blue Rider was a lender and/or producer. It points them to SURVIVAL ISLAND as an Action Thriller, to ASYLUM as an Erotic Thriller, to RESCUE DAWN as a Military & War Drama, to MY 5 WIVES as a Late Night Comedy and to AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS as a Family Comedy.

Awards for Asylum: 
Asylum director David Mackenzie took an honor at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was also nominated as Best Picture (Golden Bear Award). Natasha Richardson won both the Evening Standard Best Actress Award and was nominated for the British Independent Film Best Actress Award for it.

Boxoffice and rental revenue:
The film had a worldwide theatrical gross of $1,066,655 ($375,403 domestic over 14 weeks and $691,252 in 10 countries. It grossed $519,857 in seven weeks in Russia, $385,847 in Italy and $195,410 in the U.K./Ireland/Malta market. Its widest U.S. release was in 55 theatres, its highest chart rating was #42 and its total domestic gross was $375,403.

Festival Screenings: 
Asylum was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, The Tribeca Film Festival, The Maine International Film Festival and The Copenhagen International Film Festival.

Release Data: 
Its limited U.S. theatrical engagement began on August 12, 2005. That year it also played in the UK, Israel and Singapore. In 2006 it debuted in Greece, Thailand, Portugal, Iceland (DVD) and Argentina (video). Opened in Germany on March 29, 2007 as “Stellas Versuchung.” It also screened in 2007 in Italy and South Korea.

DVD Rankings:
At, as of July 16, 2009, four years after it bowed, the DVD rated #32 in Irish Art House DVDs, #69 among Crumbling Marriage films and #80 in the Marriage DVD category.

Viewers’ Ratings:
More than 71.9% of the 1,917 viewers of Asylum rating the film at the Internet Movie Database (as of February 26, 2009) gave it positive reviews–with the average rating being 6.4 out of 10. All demographic groups gave it high marks (5.9 or higher), with the most enthusiastic being people 17 and younger and females 45 and older (both groups rating it 7.4 out of 10),followed by females 18-29 (6.5).

Critics’ Kudos:
Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Powerful, haunting and beautifully crafted, Asylum deserves attention, praise, respect, admiration and Oscars.”

Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Patrick McGrath’s 1997 gothic novel is on my list of favorite books [and] I’m delighted to say Asylum is a reverently faithful and compact adaptation and it captures the tragicomic hypocrisy of McGrath’s narrative and manages to mine the emotional ballast in a consumptive love that destroys all in its path.

“Asylum is a film that takes you by surprise, refusing to relinquish its grim, fascinating hold. Better yet, it has crept up on us without much advance promotional fanfare. The less known about its twists, the better.

“Author McGrath stated in a 1998 interview that ‘to sacrifice all for love would soon find (one) in a very difficult situation … love at a certain point, has to relinquish its exclusiveness, lovers have to become rehabilitated into the wider society.’ It’s the exquisite performances that draw on this tenet and bring suspense and comprehension to a startling turn of events.

“Richardson, who also executive produced, is a heartbreaking, strong Stella, failed by being born in the wrong era — and by the wrong men.
She is the moral compass of the story. New Zealander Csokas, who has been relegated to playing villain roles in xXx and Kingdom of Heaven, heats the screen with a leading man fragility mixed with potently dangerous sexual simmering. Together they make comprehensible — and combustible — a doomed alliance.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader: “David Mackenzie, who directed the remarkable Scottish drama “Young Adam” (2003), delivers another masterful, disturbing tale of illicit passion, erotic obsession, and sudden death set in the 1950s. Adapted from a novel by Patrick McGrath (Spider), this has the same aggressive but nuanced sensibility as Mackenzie’s previous feature, and the same sure grasp of both actors and camera.”

Andrew O’Hehir, “Scottish director David Mackenzie’s Asylum is both dark and sleek, a mixture of rapturous cinematography, hot sex and unforgiving fatalism. It’s not really the kind of movie Hollywood wants to make, but it might be exactly the kind of movie that studio executives want to see — and then pretend, at cocktail parties, that they want to make.

“Based on Asylum and his previous film Young Adam, Mackenzie is a meticulous craftsman with an eye for beauty and a hardened twist to his moral vision. His should be a career to watch.

“I’ve been describing Asylum to people as a long-lost Hitchcock film they’ve never seen before. If there are moments of homage in Mackenzie’s adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s mental-hospital Gothic melodrama, the combination of lush, romantic spectacle and moral cruelty never feels forced or phony.

“These days, most movies about sexual affairs bounce the two people off each other like particles in a supercollider; we get a hackneyed meaningful glance or two, some stylized neck-smooching and back-arching, and then those awful fuzzy soft-porn montages that pass for eroticism. Mackenzie takes his time getting Stella (the ever-delicious Natasha Richardson) and the obviously dangerous Edgar (Marton Csokas) together. It’s the late ’50s in rural England; suffice it to say that it’s not OK for a doctor’s wife to bonk the nutso-killer hired help, no matter how smolderingly handsome he is and no matter how languorously long-legged and sexually frustrated she happens to be. The on-screen connection between Richardson and Csokas — a rising star from New Zealand with something of Russell Crowe and something of William Holden about him — crackles like a summer thunderstorm from the moment they lay eyes on each other, and Mackenzie allows it to play out gradually. Their first breathless coupling in the unfinished greenhouse feels like what it is, a reckless, self-destructive act of compulsion. (The film’s sex scenes, by the way, are vigorous, physical and plentiful.)

“Their misguided love affair — and there’s no doubt that their connection is spiritual as well as physical — will destroy almost everything and everyone in their lives. Asylum is a rich story, loaded with narrative ironies, that careens from the depressing backwoods asylum to the back alleys of London, where Edgar was a proto-bohemian sculptor before killing his wife. Don’t go expecting redemption for either of these characters; you surely won’t want any for Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen), the Machiavellian shrink who watches all this from above like an unusually manipulative deity. But if you’re tough enough for this lush but hardhearted melodrama, it’s one of the year’s signature film experiences.”

Connie Ogle, Miami Herald: “The film, with its uniformly terrific cast, stern Gothic overtones and steady but measured pacing, is a crisp, old-fashioned delight, eschewing cheap tricks for repeated tiny pricks of unease that work up to a continuous gnawing dread.

“Mackenzie is skillful not only at creating tension but also in exploring intense passion and its unwholesome side effects. Like his film Young Adam — in which a troubled Ewan McGregor carries on with an older, married Tilda Swinton — Asylum makes the connection between sexual obsession and madness and the thin line that separates them. The stakes here are high. Stella knows she might pay for her actions with her life — in an unspeakably horrible way — and yet she can’t stop herself. Asylum uses that common human failing to sculpt a true horror story, all about love.”

David Sterritt,
Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle: “It’s 1960 in the verdant English countryside, but the hills aren’t alive with the sound of anything other than the muffled groanings of soul-stifling sexual repression, erotic and professional obsession, and, ultimately, bloody, sweaty aggression.

“No one can do clinical detachment (or, I suspect, possesses a better manicure) than Sir Ian McKellan: As resident psychiatrist Dr. Cleave, he’s the sinister shadow that hangs over everything in the film, blotting out hope with a cool, cheerless smile and an air of unspoken disdain that’s as suffocating as a vacuum.

“The delectably atmospheric Asylum remains gothic to its morally maggoty core.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “Natasha Richardson is coolly gorgeous as Stella Raphael, who when the film opens is arriving with her husband, Max and young son at a dungeonlike asylum for the criminally insane in rural Yorkshire. The year is 1959, the locals are stuffy, and Max, the asylum’s new deputy superintendent, is a humorless dud. No wonder Stella seems ready to explode out of her tightly wrapped low-cut dresses at any moment.

“There are some extremely smart people behind the camera, including co-screenwriter/playwright Patrick Marber (‘Closer’) and director Mackenzie.”

Michael Phillips,Chicago Tribune: “Natasha Richardson glides through the film version of Patrick McGrath’s novel “Asylum” in various states of fear, desire and undress, a swan among Yorkshire frumps. As this placid tale of mad love unfolds, charting an affair between the wife of a mental hospital administrator and her brooding, Heathcliffy lover, Richardson – who is 5 foot 9, according to various unimpeachable Internet sources, but in “Asylum” looks to be about nine feet tall – towers over her repressed lessers, a lightning rod in summer whites.”

Jonathan Curiel, SF Chronicle: “Richardson commands every scene she’s in, giving her character a complexity that reveals her lust and guilt over having an affair with one of the asylum’s patients. Fueled by the screenwriters’ gift for dialogue, McKellen delivers a standout performance. His voice alone — erudite, resonant, confident — is one of cinema’s great pleasures. So much happens in Asylum, but the time goes by quickly. Paced like a Hollywood film, Asylum is still English to its core. English dramas, the stereotype goes, don’t insult the intelligence of their audience. In the case of Asylum, that stereotype is true.”

Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press: “It’s a movie you fall for or you don’t and I’m not ashamed to admit that I did.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: “The movie is well made.”

Gene Seymour, Newsday: “Adapted from Patrick McGrath’s novel of the same name, Asylum benefits from barbed exchanges, gritty period detail and its fine cast. Director David Mackenzie demonstrates the same affinity for smoldering eroticism and late 1950s noir that permeated his 2003 breakthrough, Young Adam.”

Jason Korsner, UK Screen: “As expected, from the director behind Young Adam, this is a powerful, sexually charged piece of drama. The strongest performance in the film comes from Ian McKellen, who bristles with supercilious cheek.”

Matt McNally, “Escape comes in the form of a series of sweaty, frantic trysts with a brooding inmate named Edgar. Unfortunately, the trick to Edgar’s 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. The elegant Richardson, maintaining an inscrutable detachment in keeping with the cold psychology of the story, makes the most of an unusually juicy role.”

Anna Smith, Empire: “This is a well-performed adaptation of an absorbing melodrama.”

Robert Wilonsky,Dallas Observer: “The lunatics have taken over the Asylum, and they’re very horny. Asylum plays like a topless Twilight Zone.”

Major Cast and Crew Credits and Awards:
Directed by Scotland’s David Mackenzie, who won numerous awards for directing 2003’s Young Adam, and who also directed Hallam Foe, Marcie’s Dowry and The Last Great Wilderness.

Written by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal; nominated for Golden Globe, BAFTA and three other screenwriting awards for Closer; won numerous awards for his first play, Dealer’s Choice) and Chrysanthy Balis (won screenwriting award for The Wheat Field; wrote a pilot for HBO, an adaptation of a BBC mini-series for Fox 2000 and the Zanuck Company, and movie projects for the ABC, CBS and USA networks).

Stars Natasha Richardson (Maid in Manhattan, The Parent Trap, Nell, Blow Dry, Gothic, Fat Man and Little Boy, The White Countess, A Month in the Country, Widow’s Peak; won various Best Actress awards for The Handmaid’s Tale, Widow’s Peak and The Comfort of Strangers; 22 other films and TV projects); Martin Csokas (two Lord of the Rings films, Star Wars 2, Xena: Warrior Princess, The Bourne Supremacy, Kingdom of Heaven, Aeon Flux, Timeline, Twilight of the Gods); Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill, Tomorrow Never Dies, Frankenstein, Mansfield Park, Stage Beauty, Scenes of a Sexual Nature; won Berlin Film Festival Award and BAFTA and European Film award noms for Iris) and Sir Ian McKellen (The Da Vinci Code, Bent, Othello, Six Degrees of Separation; Oscar nominated Best Supporting Actor for Gods and Monsters and for Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring; won 30 major awards and 25 other nominations for films including Apt Pupil, the other two Lord of the Rings films, Cold Comfort Farm, Rasputin, Richard III, And the Band Played On, Flushed Away and two X-Men films).

Cast includes Gus Lewis (Batman Begins); Judy Parfitt (Ever After, Dolores Claiborne, King Ralph, Maurice, Pride and Prejudice, Wilde; BAFTA acting award nominations for Jewel in the Crown and Girl With a Pearl Earring); Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October, Lethal Weapon 2, K-19: The Widowmaker, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Three Musketeers, Shadowlands, A Zed & Two Noughts, Lady Jane, St. Jack; BAFTA nominations for White Mischief and First and Last) and Wanda Ventham (The Knack and How to Get It, Carry on Cleo, Lost Empires, The Spy With the Cold Nose).

Executive Producers are Robert Rehme (Lost in Space, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Beverly Hills Cop 3, Flight of the Intruder, Vice Squad, Blind Faith, Necessary Roughness); Natasha Richardson (debut); Bruce McNall (WarGames, Weekend at Bernies, Mr. Mom, Alpha Dog, Gleaming the Cube); Michael Barlow (debut); John Buchanan (The Thief Lord, Bleeders, To Walk With Lions, Treasure Island); Chris Curling (Hannibal Rising, The Upside of Anger, Mountains of the Moon, Wah-Wah, My Son the Fanatic); Baron Davis (debut); Harmon Kaslow (Dog Soliers, Red Scorpion, Cemetery Gates, Boo) and Steve Markoff (Alpha Dog, Stander, The House on Turk Street, Camille).

Producers are Mace Neufield (The Sum of All Fears, The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The General’s Daughter, Lost in Space, Patriot Games, The Frisco Kid, Sahara, The Omen, Blind Faith; Emmy nomination for East of Eden); Laurie Borg (Sense and Sensibility, Little Voice, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Funny Bones, Orlando, B. Monkey, The Four Feathers) and David E. Allen (Dog Soldiers, Boo, The House on Turk Street).

Original Music by Mark Mancina (Money Train, From the Earth to the Moon, Return to Paradise, The Reckoning; won seven BMI Film Music Awards for Twister, Con Air, Speed, Training Day, Tarzan, Brother Bear and Bad Boys).

Cinematography by Giles Nuttgens (Young Adam, Swimfan, Bee Season, Keep the Aspidistra Flying; won Sundance Cinematography Award for The Deep end and won Canada’s Best Cinematography Genie Award for Water).

Film Editing by Colin Monie (The Magdalene Sisters, Young Adam, Orphans, Wild Country; won Genie Award for Water and Pixie Award for California Sunshine) and Steven Weisberg (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Men in Black II, The Cable Guy, Nurse Betty, The Producers, Message in a Bottle, Big Trouble).

Production Design by Laurence Dorman (Goal, Young Adam, Photographing Fairies, Pandemonium).

Art Direction by Philip Barber (Morvern Caller, Murphy Brown, Hotel Infinity, Pirates).

Costume Design by Consolata Boyle (2007 Oscar, BAFTA nominations won and Costume Designers Guild Award for The Queen; won Emmy Award and CDG nom for The Lion in Winter; won IFTA Award for Angela’s Ashes; other noms for Moll Flanders and Nora; costumed Mary Reilly, The Snapper, The Secret of Roan Inish, The Winslow Boy and Widow’s Peak).

Special Effects Supervised by Duncan Kinnaird (The Da Vinci Code, Band of Brothers, Blade II, Event Horizon;won Emmy and Visual Effects Society awards for Rome).

Quotes from Director David Mackenzie:
“The movie’s about the chemistry between Natasha Richardson and Martin Csokas. They’re both great actors, so they’re able to do a lot.

“Some of it is about consequences, and I was really interested in that aspect of the story: How an act, or a force that runs inside human beings, can have all these ramifications. Some of it’s about civilizing influences versus human instinct. You’ve got the walled asylum as a metaphor for that. What happens when you transgress those boundaries? Strangely enough, I think it’s also about love. Although it comes from sex, it is actually all about love. Everyone everyone in the story suffers for their love in some way.

“Patrick McGrath, who wrote this novel, actually grew up at Broadmoor, a famous asylum in England. He told me that when his father took over at Broadmoor, there was only one other psychiatrist for 600 seriously ill patients. They were uninterested in treating them, really. The weird thing is that at that point in time psychiatry was much more about Freud — all about sex — and nowadays it’s more about drug administration than anything else. But we wanted to avoid mental hospital cliches. Even the interviews that Ian McKellen has with patients are really opportunities for the characters to engage one another, rather than therapy sessions.

“This film is set in 1959 and 1960. When Stella goes to live in the London warehouse [with Edgar], you can see there’s a proto-beatnik vibe there. In terms of the costumes, we start with all this stiff stuff, whites, creams and dull colors. Then we move to reds and deeper textures; her hair comes down. We were trying to suggest that the times they are a-changing. Later in the film, of course, she has to go back to that world of postwar trauma.

“If Stella had been born just five years later, everything would have been fine. I think the 1950s is quite an interesting period. It’s far enough away that you can observe it comparatively dispassionately, but it’s close enough that you can have all these reflections on our own time and our own experiences.”

Internet Movie Database entry for Asylum

Official Site (Paramount Classics)

Asylum’s page on Sir Ian McKellen’s website (with video clip)

Asylum trailer at (various formats)

Asylum trailer (in Quicktime format) at

Asylum trailer in German (in Quicktime format)

Asylum trailer for Windows Media Player at