Nothing wrecks the mood of a high-toned British period piece about erotic obsession quicker than an unintentional laugh. In which case, prepare for Asylum to be derailed by snorts in all the wrong places, despite the participation of Natasha Richardson as an unhappy 1950s housewife and Ian McKellen as her Machiavellian shrink. In this adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel, directed by David Mackenzie (Young Adam), Richardson plays Stella, living on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, where her psychiatrist husband (Hugh Bonneville) has just taken a post.
One minute Stella is an aloof faculty spouse and the next she’s in sexual thrall to an inmate, Edgar (Marton Csokas, the near-sighted woman’s Clive Owen), who has been locked up for years on charges of murdering his wife in a fit of jealousy. The upshot of this foolish choice by a smart woman is lots of R-rated sex with an emphasis on lingerie. (In the wings, McKellen looks skeptical.) On the grounds of an asylum, you see, these two voraciously self-destructive creatures find a very different kind of haven together. Don’t laugh.