Angels & Insects

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Angels & Insects
Angels and insects.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Philip Haas
Screenplay by Philip Haas
Belinda Haas
Based on Morpho Eugenia
by A. S. Byatt
Starring Mark Rylance
Patsy Kensit
Kristin Scott Thomas
Music by Alexander Balanescu
Cinematography Bernard Zitzerman
Playhouse International Pictures
Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
  • 5 November 1995 (1995-11-05)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $3.4 million

Angels & Insects is a 1995 romance drama film directed by Philip Haas. It was written by Philip and Belinda Haas with A. S. Byatt after her novella Morpho Eugenia (included in her book Angels and Insects).


William Adamson (Mark Rylance), a brilliant naturalist, has recently returned to Victorian England, staying with the family of his wealthy benefactor, Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp). He is penniless after losing all of his possessions in a shipwreck returning from a years-long expedition to the Amazon. Now dependent upon the hospitality of 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 quickly becomes enamored with Sir Harold's eldest daughter, Eugenia (Patsy Kensit), who is still mourning the recent death of her fiance. Despite his impoverished circumstances, Eugenia proves receptive to his advances and accepts his proposal of marriage. Although Sir Harold grants his approval, Eugenia's snobbish brother Edgar (Douglas Henshall) takes an intense dislike to William because of his humble origins.

Soon after the marriage, Eugenia informs William that she is pregnant. She insists on naming the boy 'Edgar' after her brother, frustrating William. Eugenia's behavior alternates between coldness towards William, locking him out of her room at night, and moments of intense sexual passion. Over time the couple has four more children, although William never warms to them. He instead spends much of his time with the Alabaster children and Matty, observing the activity of an ant colony in the forest. He forms a strong bond with Matty Crompton, who encourages his scientific activities and displays a strong intelligence of her own. They collaborate on a book about the colony, which is successfully published in London.

One day, during a hunting excursion, William is summoned back to the house by a servant boy who claims that Eugenia wishes to speak to him. He walks into the bedroom, surprising Eugenia and Edgar while they are engaging in incestuous sex. Eugenia then confesses that she and Edgar had been having sex with each other for years and that her fiance committed suicide after discovering this. Eugenia also tells William that even though she knew it was wrong for her to have sex with her brother, it did not quench her desire to do it. William realizes that he has been used by Eugenia and that all of 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 by discreetly moving around letter tiles that spell INSECT to INCEST. Meeting in her attic room, she explains that the servants were also aware and it was through their instigation that the secret was exposed to William. Expressing frustration at her life and her dependency on the Alabasters, Matty reveals that she has published her own book on the insects and has bought two tickets for passage aboard a ship bound for the Amazon. William is initially reluctant for them both to go; despite his attraction to Matty, he does not feel that the rain forest is a suitable place for a woman. After she assures him of her strength, and reveals that she loves him, William acquiesces to her plan.

Before leaving, William meets with Eugenia one last time and tells her he intends never to return. He also promises to keep her secret, for fear of injuring her ailing father with the news, and hopes she may find a way to live with herself. The movie ends with William and Matty departing in a coach for Liverpool, eager to begin their new adventure and leave the past behind.




  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Angels & Insects". Retrieved 2009-09-02. 

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