Dance With a Stranger (1985): Mike Newell’s Biopic Starring Miranda Richardson as Ruth Ellis

Dark, gloomy and depressing, “Dance With a Stranger” features a brilliant performance from Miranda Richardson as the real-life Ruth Ellis, the last British woman to be actually hanged for committing murder.

Tautly directed by Mike Newell from a sharply penned screenplay by Shelagh Delaney (better known as a playwright), the story is not entirely faithful to the facts, but it is dramatically compelling and the acting of the entire ensemble is superb.
 
“Dance With a Stranger” world-premiered at the 1985 Cannes Film Fest in competition, putting at the front rank Miranda Richardson as one of the most brilliant actresses of her generation.
 
Mostly set in the early 1950s, the story centers on Ellis, a divorcee and former prostitute, who’s working as a hostess in a Soho nightclub. Living a sexually and emotionally barren life with Desmond Cussen (Ian Holm, brilliantly understated, as usual), who’s also taking care of her teenage son, she falls head over hills for an upper class cad, well played by Rupert Everett, just before he came out and was thus typed as a “gay” actor.   
 
For some critics, the film is emblematic of the British kitchen-sink realism, but for me, it’s more a sampler of a period film noir, with all the obsessions and pessimism that mark this downbeat genre.
 
Miranda Richardson gives a brilliant performance as the tough, ruthless, and intense blonde, who challenged sexual taboos and social mores of the rigidly stratified British society of the post-WWII era.