I consider the years 1984 and 1988 the two best years of the 80s for films. Those two years contained many wonderful movies and noteworthy performances. One of those performances that stands out to me is that of Kristin Scott Thomas in the 1988 film A Handful of Dust. Directed by Charles Sturridge, the film is set in England during the 1930s. Scott Thomas plays Brenda, the wife a landed aristocrat named Tony. The duo reside in a large estate in the countryside with their young son. Despite the fact that nothing appears to be lacking in Brenda's life, she seems to have grown bored with the relative isolation and the monotonous routine of living in Tony’s ancestral home, known as Hetton Abbey.
After a weekend visit from a friend of Tony’s named Thomas, who’s of a lower social rank, Brenda decides to spend time in London, as she has developed a special interest in Thomas. She fancies Thomas and wishes to get to know him better. She thus begins traveling back and forth from Hetton Abbey to London on a fairly frequent basis, first under the pretext that she’s going visit her sister. Later, she decides to rent a flat in London. It just so happens that the woman she’s renting the flat from is the mother of Thomas. Brenda then very willingly enters into an affair with Thomas, seeing him whenever she’s in London, all the while maintaining the illusion that she simply wants to spend some time away from the idleness of Hetton Abbey to relish the liveliness of London.
Brenda’s trusting and unsuspecting husband has no clue of what’s really going on, though a couple of other people within their social circle are fully aware of the circumstances. She even convinces him to let her sign up for an Economics course -- more of a reason to spend time in London. It’s during one of her stays in London that an unexpected family tragedy leads her back to Hetton Abbey. Once there, she’s determined make the definitive choice to leave Tony. She returns to London to reunite with Thomas, and writes a letter to Tony to inform him that she had been having an affair with Thomas and intends to marry him. She then files for divorce from Tony and seeks a large financial settlement from him, which incidentally would require him to lose his ancestral home.
Tony refuses to grant Brenda the divorce, and instead chooses to travel abroad for a few months. He ventures to South America with an explorer friend of his, and that voyage, as it turns out, will change his destiny and that of Brenda.
The role of Brenda was the breakout performance for Scott Thomas, and it’s a pity that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Though I must admit that 1988 was a very competitive year for actresses in leading roles. The film boasts a great cast which includes Judi Dench, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Angelica Huston, and Alec Guinness who plays an elderly loner living amidst native Indians in the Amazonian jungle. Altogether, this a very good film which managed to snag an Oscar nomination for its beautiful costume design.