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`Proposition' essential for Theresa Russell fans

Published: Sunday, July 27 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

Theresa Russell, one of the more intriguing and intelligent screen actresses of her generation, harbors no artsy pretensions about this latest film of hers.

"It's a bodice-ripper, plain and simple," Russell said in a fact-of-the-matter interview heralding the direct-to-video release of Strathford Hamilton's "The Proposition" (A-Pix Entertainment)."I turned it down at first, actually, and then Patrick Bergin was approached, and he said, `If Theresa does it, then I'll do it,' and I'd always wanted to work with Patrick - so here we are."

"The Proposition" is at heart a costume-drama soap opera (rated R for adult situations and violence), but it is directed with style and energy, and the presence of Russell and Bergin lends an undeniable dignity.

"Oh, it was always meant for TV, for video - it's flatly a melodrama, no art-film posturing about it," said Russell, 39. "Funny, but I've always wanted to do a western film, and this is about as close as I've come. Patrick and Strathford and I just tried to give it a little class, keep it from wallowing in the mud."

The period piece starts out in a civilized early-day America but promptly heads west as Russell, playing a lady of substance who is driven from her position by treachery, finds herself at large on the wild frontier.

Paul Matthews' screenplay concerns a brawling relationship that takes shape between Bergin, as a rough outdoorsman, and Russell, whose struggle to regain her honor is the entire (and rather overdone) point of the film.

There is more than a hint of Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders" here. "The Proposition" benefits from strong portrayals and an every-dollar-on-screen look - and should be essential viewing for anyone who has been enchanted with Theresa Russell.

That would account for a great many moviegoers. Russell has graced the screen for 21 years, now, starting with "The Last Tycoon" (1976) and reaching an early peak with "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession" (England; 1980). "Bad Timing" was directed by Nicolas Roeg, whom Russell would marry in 1982.

Her films with Roeg, in fact, have accounted for Russell's most loyal popular following: These include the eerie afterlife meditation "Cold Heaven" (1992), the sobering political fantasy "Insignificance" (1985) and especially the near-indescribable "Track 29" (1988).

"Talk about ahead of your time!" said Russell. "Nicolas said while we were making that film that we might as well just put it in the vault until its time came - and of course hardly anyone in 1988 `got' it, as far as what we were trying to do with the story.

"Of course, `Track 29' has a very strong following today, mostly of young people who sense what the film is saying right off," she added. "Track 29" is, briefly, about a model-train fanatic (Christopher Lloyd), his neglected wife (Russell) and a drifter (Gary Oldman) who might or might not be her long-lost son.

Russell, who has concentrated in more recent years upon raising a family, said she has little desire to be a "star" in mainstream Hollywood, "where the watchword is mediocrity at all costs."

In Hollywood, she said, "they don't remember your accomplishments, don't keep track of the good works you've done that have held up over the long haul, or that have proved ahead of their time. You don't get cast for respect - you get cast for your last box-office smash.

"But it's nice to have an occasional new title out, whether it's going to the theaters, or to the video stores."

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