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Price Above Rubies, A (1998, Renée Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston)

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The future Bridget Jones experienced domestic strife before, in this thoughtful, complex drama portraying one woman’s struggle to escape tradition. Sonia Horowitz (Renée Zellweger) feels increasingly isolated from the Jewish neighbourhood she shares with her husband Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald) who, as scholar of Judaism, dislikes the concept of female freedom.

His brother Sender (Christopher Eccleston) is less rigid, offering Sonia a job at his jewellery store. She accepts, and slowly begins to thrive, partly through the discovery of an exquisite ring that inspires her to trace its maker, a young sculptor named Ramon (Allen Payne). Viewing her independence as rebellion, Mendel suggests marriage counselling, but Sonia discovers the mediator is a rabbi unlikely to support her, and leaves in fury, heading back to Ramon. The pair talk and become intimate, leaving Sonia to chart her own future and decide between religious loyalty and personal fulfilment…

Taking its title from a Biblical riddle, the film reworks the Adam and Eve story with considerably greater effect than the similar Close to Eden . Clever use of metaphor – the quest for the ring-maker mirrors Sonia’s own need to find a setting – indicates intelligence at work, and audiences are invited to recognise elements of the wife’s dilemma in their own lives.

New York’s Hasidic community picketed during production, disrupting shooting in Brooklyn on the grounds that the film promoted negative stereotypes. Jewish director Boaz Yakin disagreed, and prepared his cast by bombarding them with material relating to Hasidism.

It worked, with a level of detail and credible tone matched only by David Mamet’s Homicide , and driven by an equally ferocious lead performance. Zellweger persuades viewers she is driven by passion to lead her own destiny, marking her out for a series of future determined roles.

production details
UK – USA | 117 minutes | 1998

Writer and Director: Boaz Yakin

cast
Julianna Margulies as Rachel
John Randolph as Rebbe Moshe
Peter Jacobson as Schnuel
Edie Falco as Feiga
Renée Zellweger as Sonia Horowitz
Christopher Eccleston as Sender Horowitz
Allen Payne as Ramon Garcia
Glenn Fitzgerald as Mendel Horowitz
Kim Hunter as Rebbitzn
Michael Stuhlbarg as Young Hassid
Ching Hoh-Wai as Lady Vendor