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Critically Acclaimed Film <i>Cold Mountain</i> Brings Civil War Novel to Life - 2003-12-25

Charles Frazier's acclaimed novel of a love story set amid the devastating American Civil War Between the States comes to the screen as a romantic drama starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. Alan Silverman has a look at Cold Mountain

As the clouds of Civil War begin to gather in the 1860s, genteel, educated Ada, played by Nicole Kidman, joins her father far from the front lines in the rural North Carolina town of Cold Mountain. There she meets Inman Jude Law - and the attraction between the two is undeniable; but before romance can blossom, war breaks out and Inman must go off to fight for the South:

Nicole Kidman says she finds much to admire in Ada, whom she describes as "a very modern woman."

"I think that she is so pure; there is a purity to her and an innocence in a strange way," says Kidman. "She says something, which is 'I'll be waiting for you' and she does and she never wavers off that. She has one of my favorite lines which is 'come back to me, is my request.' I love that because of its purity. It is so delicate and yet so desirous."

After the terrible toll of too many battlefields and lost lives, Inman sets out on an odyssey to return home where Ada is struggling to keep her life together. Her father has died and her world is crumbling when a rough-hewn ball of fire named Ruby arrives at Ada's Cold Mountain doorstep.

Renee Zellweger co-stars as Ruby Thewes, a character she says she admired and knew from when she first read the Charles Frazier novel.

"These characters were so simple and yet complete in their experiences and in the way he describes them and I loved it. I understood it," she says. "It's about change. It's about developing as a person in challenging times. It's about redefining what is important in life."

Director Anthony Minghella also adapted the novel for the screen, as he did with another wartime drama, the Oscar-winning The English Patient; and the English-born filmmaker acknowledges it was daunting to fully understand the War Between the States and its continuing impact on the American character.

"I filled up the library in my house with Civil War books, manuscripts, maps and photographs and I still knew I had only scratched the surface of the amount which exists about the Civil War," he says. "Of course, you're right to say that as a screenwriter, before you can put a single word into somebody's mouth or describe a scene, you have to feel comfortable that you know enough about it to inhabit it correctly: what people were reading, what they were thinking about, what they were arguing about, what the conventions were, how people courted each other. . . It took me more than a year of fulltime work before I could even venture near a piece of paper to write a line of dialogue or an instruction because I felt that I had to immerse myself in this territory."

Texas-born Renee Zellweger believes writer/director Minghella's adaptation accurately captures the spirit of the era as vividly described in the original novel.

"I love literature that you can experience in a tangible way as you read it. You can smell these places that he describes. You can feel them and hear them," she says. "It becomes a very animated experienced when you find someone like Charles Frazier who writes as beautifully as he does. I guess it helps that I'm from the South, too, because I recognize the land and the cultural elements and the traditions. . . and I recognize the weather. I know what he means when he is talking about that heat. I know why everybody is a little drowsy in August."

Cold Mountain also features Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Brendan Gleeson; the film was shot in rural Romania where director Anthony Minghella says he could find unspoiled settings to double for the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in the 1860s.