Lawrence O'Toole
October 26, 1990 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Raggedy Rawney

Current Status
In Season
Dexter Fletcher, Bob Hoskins, Zoe Nathenson, Ian Dury, Zoe Wanamaker
Bob Hoskins
George Harrison
Nicole De Wilde, Bob Hoskins

We gave it a B-

The movies’ special gift for showing us unfamiliar scenes and asking unpleasant questions is so rarely invoked that a so-so picture like The Raggedy Rawney can stand out for its freshness. And thanks to video, such cinematic oddments are not lost forever but can await discovery by those who will appreciate their vision.

”Rawney”’s unfamiliar scene has a tribe of nomadic Gypsies wandering Middle Europe sometime in midcentury, and its questions concern society’s treatment of ”deserters” — those who, like the Gypsies and the title character, opt out of life’s holding pattern and are usually resented and mistrusted as a result. The main character is a young soldier (Dexter Fletcher) who flees his military encampment during some bloody, endless European conflict. He happens on a passing Gypsy caravan, where he is given refuge and assumes the disguise of a magical madwoman — a ”rawney,” in Gypsy argot — in order to elude the army patrols that routinely stop and harass the Gypsies.

His savior is a garrulous con man called Darky (Bob Hoskins), a lover of swindles and protector of misfits who directs his people’s travels like some crazed ringmaster.

Actor Hoskins also coauthored and directed this unusual, moody picture, shot in pastoral Czechoslovakia. He brings a keen, committed eye to his depictions of the insular Romany culture, in the quiet, personal moments as well as in the flamboyant scenes of Gypsy weddings, harvests, and funerals. What he doesn’t bring is a sense of narrative drive and deft character development. Consequently, unlike its Gypsy subjects, ”The Raggedy Rawney” seems always to be starting, but never really moving.

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