Movie Review: A Greek tragedy on an isle they call “Little England”

The Greek island of Andros became so self-sufficient, so connected with shipping and commerce, that the locals took to calling it “Little England.”

But with so many of its men at sea — captains, mates and crews for the many vessels registered there — that left a lot of “sea widows” behind to carry on the business of life. That’s where novelist and screenwriter Ioanna Karystiani and director Pantelis Voulgaris find drama and tragedy, a world of hurt and shattered dreams all under the roof of the tyrannical matriarch Mina.

Mina (Aneza Papadopoulo) and Stavvas (Vasilis Vasilakis) have two lovely daughters. Orsa (Penelope Tsilika), the oldest, has secretly fallen for the sailor Spyros (Andreas Konstantinou).

They have a great love and grand plans. He will ship out as a mate, and come home a captain, and when he returns in that cap, “We’ll get married that same day,” he assures her (in Greek, with English subtitles).

But Mina, the wife of an ever-absent captain herself, has status and money and the time to do her research. She has found Orsa a match so that they will “not lose face.” Orsa is inconsolable, but her mother insists she has marriage all figured out.

“It’s much better for women not to marry men they love,” she reasons. That way, when they stray, cheat or disappear at sea “it won’t hurt as much.”

Orsa will marry handsome captain Nikos (Maximos Moumouris). It’ll be a loveless marriage, but that’s that. Poor Spyros will have to learn about it in a letter at sea, and not one from Orsa.

But Mina’s not done with him. Once he makes captain, she has a younger daughter, Moscha (Sofia Kokkali). Bubbly and impulsive, she’s already fallen for a young teacher from England. Mina has that hapless man shipped home, and makes her match.

We have to decide, which is nastier — Spyros going along with this “revenge” marriage, or Mina keeping Moscha in the dark about him being Orsa’s great love?

Voulgaris, an elder statesman of Greek cinema (“Happy Day,” “It’s a Long Road”), gives this sad saga enough period detail to make it a romantic tragedy with just a hint of the sweep of history around it. The story begins in 1930 and climaxes after World War II.

We hear of Greece’s invasion on the wireless and through gossip, see the way Greek shipping pitched in with the Allies and faced the perils of the U-Boat perils of the Battle of the Atlantic.

The sisters have children, their men come home just often enough to ensure that. Eventually even the patriarch returns.

Will the wounds Mina opens ever heal?

The narrative is straight-up melodrama, and has just enough forward momentum to hold our interest. I was more struck by the vivid sense of a place and a time Voulgaris conjures up — beaches and ruins, old houses, traditions and marriages to near strangers which may or may not grow warmer over the decades and long separations.

“Little England” is better at conjuring up this world than resolving its issues, but the actresses, like the women of Andros, earn our sympathy (“The shrew,” the sisters call their mother.) and hold our interest as the island itself makes us long for a “bucket list” visit.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, smoking, profanity

Cast:  Penelope Tsilika, Sofia Kokkali, Aneza Papadopoulo, Andreas Konstantinou, Maximos Moumouris and Vasilis Vasilakis

Credits: Directed by Pantelis Voulgaris, script by Ioanna Karystiani, adapted from her novel. A Corinth Films release on Film Movement.

Running time: 2:12

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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