By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated May 12, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

With the slow-moving and prismatic The Last September, adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Bowen, Deborah Warner becomes yet another stage director-turned-filmmaker. At a fine country house in County Cork, it’s 1920, the last moment before life changes forever for the English, Irish, and—most ambivalent of all—Anglo-Irish characters coming apart on the eve of Ireland’s independence.

There’s something Slavic about Warner’s storytelling, in part because she’s working with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, in part because screenwriter John Banville maneuvers the characters as figures of Chekhovian sadness. As the aristocratic couple at whose estate sex and murder presage revolution, the redoubtable Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon certainly have the chops for any theatrical notion Warner throws their way, as does Fiona Shaw (The Butcher Boy) as a worldly guest. Meanwhile, newcomer Keeley Hawes lightly carries the weight of metaphor as a young woman torn between the British soldier who loves her and the Irish terrorist who turns her on. B+