Set in rural England in 1958 and focusing on the romantic and sexual yearnings of Eva (Samantha Morton), a hungry young woman carrying a torch for a dashing, distant cousin while dallying with a local pig farmer, Dreaming of Joseph Lees sounds a lot less promising than it is. In fact, this unorthodox and intense love story, the first feature of director Eric Styles and screenwriter Catherine Linstrum, manages to contradict the conventions of pig-farmer-in-love stories at every turn: Eva beds but doesn’t marry, cheats but doesn’t die, and desires but doesn’t necessarily prevail.
What’s crucial is that Eva is played by Samantha Morton, the amazing, emotionally naked star of Under the Skin, whose extraordinary talent is about to get greater exposure in Jesus’ Son and Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. Let loose in a plot that’s surprisingly modern about sex and relationships, Morton gives Eva’s torn longings an immediacy that transcends a lot of damp, 1950s rusticated preciousness. As the pig farmer who pursues Eva and snaps into madness when she strays, Lee Ross is earthy and direct. And as the dreamboat of the title, handsomely refined Rupert Graves strikes some good hot sparks with his incandescent costar. B+