Angels and Insects

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Angels and Insects
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPhilip Haas
Screenplay byPhilip Haas
Belinda Haas
Based onMorpho Eugenia
by A. S. Byatt
Produced byJoyce Herlihy
Belinda Haas
StarringMark Rylance
Patsy Kensit
Kristin Scott Thomas
CinematographyBernard Zitzerman
Music byAlexander Balanescu
Playhouse International Pictures
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Distributed byThe Samuel Goldwyn Company (United States)[1]
Film Four Distributors Limited (United Kingdom)[2]
Release date
  • 5 November 1995 (1995-11-05)
Running time
116 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Box office$3.4 million

Angels and Insects (sometimes styled as Angels & Insects) is a 1995 romantic drama film directed by Philip Haas and starring Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas. It was written by Philip and Belinda Haas with A. S. Byatt after her 1992 novella Morpho Eugenia (included in her book Angels and Insects). The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.


William Adamson (Mark Rylance), a naturalist, returns to Victorian England, staying with his benefactor, Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp), a wealthy Baronet. He has lost his possessions in a shipwreck, returning from an extended expedition to the Amazon. Now dependent upon his patron, William is employed to catalog Sir Harold's specimen collection and teach his younger children the natural sciences, assisting their governess, the unassuming Matty Crompton (Kristin Scott Thomas).

William becomes enamoured of Sir Harold's eldest daughter, Eugenia (Patsy Kensit). Eugenia is softly spoken, anxious, and mourning the recent death of her fiancé. Despite his impoverishment, Eugenia proves receptive and accepts his marriage proposal. Although Sir Harold grants his approval, Eugenia's snobbish and spoilt brother Edgar (Douglas Henshall) dislikes William's humble origins.

Soon after the marriage, Eugenia becomes pregnant. Eugenia's behaviour alternates between coldness, locking William out of her room, and intense sexual passion. The couple has four more children. She names one son Edgar, in her family's tradition, annoying William. He spends much of his time with the Alabaster children and Matty, observing an ant colony in the forest, with a view to writing a book. Returning via the stables from an excursion, William discovers Edgar raping a teenage servant. Edgar tells William that she consented, but she is clearly terrified. William forms a bond with Matty, who encourages his scientific activities and displays a strong intelligence. The book is successfully published.

One day, William is summoned from the hunt to the house by a servant who claims Eugenia wants him. Entering the bedroom, he finds Eugenia and Edgar engaging in incestuous sex. Eugenia confesses that this has occurred since childhood and that her fiancé committed suicide in consequence. She says that when it started she was too young to understand but, after she saw herself through the eyes of her fiancé, she felt guilty. In tears, Eugenia explains that she tried to stop, but that Edgar's will was too strong. William realises that he has been used to conceal the incest and that the children (who bear no resemblance to him) are Edgar's.

Matty reveals her knowledge of the affair to William during a Scrabble-like game. Later, she explains that the servants were also aware and arranged for him to find out. Expressing frustration at her life and dependency on the Alabasters, Matty reveals that she has published her own book on the insects and has bought tickets for a ship for the Amazon. William is reluctant; despite his attraction, he feels that the rain forest is unsuitable for a woman. After she assures him of her strength and love for him, William acquiesces.

Before leaving, William meets Eugenia and tells her he intends never to return but will continue to financially support their children. He also promises to keep her secret, for fear of injuring her ailing father, and hopes she may find a way to live with her guilt. William and Matty depart in a coach for Liverpool, eager to begin their new adventure and leave the past behind.



The film was made on location at Arbury Hall in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, the home of the 3rd Viscount Daventry.[3] The costumes worn by Kensit and the other actresses were designed in bright colors and bold patterns to evoke the appearance of insects, which would earn the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.[4] In the marriage proposal scene, Patsy Kensit's gown was treated with female sex hormones to attract the moths to her. 6,000 ants were brought in initially for the forest colony scenes, but they walked off before filming. Another 6,000 were brought in as a replacement, only for the original 6,000 to return.[5]

Release and reception[edit]

The film was entered into competition at the Cannes Film Festival[6] in May 1995 and screened at the London Film Festival on 5 November. It received a limited release in the US on 26 January 1996.[7] Critical reception was very strong, with the performances and production values being particularly praised. Janet Maslin claimed the film had "...formidable intensity and haunting beauty" and Roger Ebert awarded it 3.5 Stars.[8][9] Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle thought that Haas directed the film "...with elegance and control, and seasons the sexier, more melodramatic elements of his tale with subtle, slightly mocking irony."[10]

Time Out concluded that Angels and Insects " not your average period drama...the costumes, design, music and camerawork steer clear of naturalism, highlighting both the modernity of the approach and the notions of humans as creatures to be observed dispassionately. Despite some uneven pacing and variability in performance, this is a work of clarity, ambition and intelligence."[11]

In the US the film was released on VHS on 21 February 2000, on DVD 19 March 2002. In the UK the film was released on 3 February 2003 on both DVD and VHS.[12][13]



  1. ^ "Angels and Insects". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "Angels and Insects (1995)". BBFC. Retrieved 7 January 2024.
  3. ^ Angels and Insects End Credits. Sony Pictures Classics. 1995.
  4. ^ "Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 8 May 2017. [unreliable source?]
  5. ^ "Angels and Insects DVD Cover". MGM DVD. 2002.
  6. ^ "Angels and Insects - Festival de Cannes". Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Release Info". IMDb. Retrieved 7 May 2017. [unreliable source?]
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (26 January 1996). "FILM REVIEW; The Insect Behavior Shown by Victorians". The New York Times. eISSN 1553-8095. ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Gale A150548813. Archived from the original on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Angels and Insects Review". 22 February 1996. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  10. ^ "'Insects' Stings Society/ New film takes a look at some nasty Victorians' secrets". San Francisco Chronicle. 9 February 1996. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  11. ^ TimeOut Film Guide 10th Ed. Penguin. 2002. p. 38.
  12. ^ "Angels And Insects VHS Specifications". 3 February 2003. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  13. ^ "Angels & Insects DVD Specifications". Amazon. 19 March 2002. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  14. ^ "The 69th Academy Awards". 1997.
  15. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Angels and Insects". Retrieved 2 September 2009.

External links[edit]