Angels and Insects

Director: Philip Haas
Screenwriters: A.S. Byatt, Philip Haas, Belinda Haas

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Adapted from A.S. Byatt’s novella Morpho Eugenia, Philip Haas’s third feature, Angels and Insects, reaffirms the director’s fascination with the way the structure and detail of microscopic worlds closely parallel our own.

Naturalist William Adamson, heroic but penniless, arrives on the doorstep of his wealthy patron, the Reverend Harald Alabaster, a fellow entomologist. All of Adamson’s insect specimens, painstakingly collected from a ten-year trip to the Amazon, have been lost in a shipwreck, but the Alabaster family willingly accept him into the stately cocoon of Victorian aristocracy in spite of his dubious social standing. He falls in love with Alabaster’s daughter Eugenia, and their lusty marriage soon bears several children. The Alabasters welcome Adamson as an in-law, friend, and teacher (he enthusiastically involves the swarming Alabaster brood in the detailed study of a gigantic ant colony), except for Eugenia’s boorish older brother Edgar, who mocks and bullies him continuously.

Like the tense The Music of Chance, there is a prevailing ominous tone in the clarity which defines these characters, and in Haas’s meticulous storytelling style. He directs with the assurance and deftness of a surgeon, presenting first the refined and serenely ordered world of Victorian civility, then peeling away the layers to expose the cancerous motives and seething desires which lie just below the surface.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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