There are historical dramas that depict famous figures, and then there are reclamation projects that bring lesser-known individuals to light. The Emma Thompson-penned Effie Gray melds the two approaches into one (TV veteran Richard Laxton directed).
As in Ralph Fiennes's The Invisible Woman, Thompson favors the heroine over the anti-hero. After their marriage, Effie (Dakota Fanning) and her older husband, Victorian art critic John Ruskin (Thompson's spouse, Greg Wise) move from Scotland to the family estate in England, where bad portents accumulate: His parents (David Suchet and Julie Walters) consider Effie beneath their son, John has no interest in sex, and there's nothing to do.
Only a progressive noblewoman (Thompson) takes an interest in her welfare, though a trip to Venice offers a brief reprieve as Effie enjoys the nightlife while John works on a book (ever the party pooper, he dismisses the city as "a harlot"). But Britain represents more misery until pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) arrives to paint John's portrait, and Effie finds a friend who will become something more.
It's the point at which the film should come alive, but it just lies there, handsomely shot but dramatically inert, and Fanning's somber portrayal never captures the charisma the real-life Effie was said to possess. Somehow, I doubt that was Thompson's intention.