Uncovered (1995)
Uncovered (1995)

Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: January 13th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jim McBride Actors: Kate Beckinsale, John Wood, Sinead Cusack, Paudge Behan, Peter Wingfield, Helen McCrory, Michael Gough, Art Malik, James Villiers




ome incredibly peculiar tribal music plays during the opening scene, set in 1993 Spain, showing Julia Darrow (Kate Beckinsale, sporting an unflatteringly boyish, short haircut) working on the restoration of the painting “The Chess Game.” When she receives x-ray and infrared photographs of the work for reference, she discovers a Latin inscription in the bottom right corner. She goes to confer with boss Menchu (Sinead Cusack) at the Galeria D’Art Esquitxada, where auctioning partner Senior Montegrifo (James Villiers) is kept in the dark about the finding. Julia also visits art professor Alvaro Ortega (Art Malik), who educates her on the players depicted in the painting: Duke Ferdinand of Ostenburg, observed by the duchess (Beatrix of Burgundy), strategizing against a chivalrous French knight – perhaps Lancelot.

Later, Julia and Menchu meet with Don Manuel Belmonte (Michael Gough), the owner of the masterpiece, who translates the lettering as “Who Killed the Knight?” When she has the pigment analyzed in a lab, it’s determined that the words were covered up after the painting was finished. Additionally, the game was changed from cards to chess. When Alvaro informs her of the history behind the artwork, involving the duchess having an affair with the knight – which likely lead to his demise shortly after the portrait was commissioned – Julia believes she’s unveiled a 500-year-old murder mystery. Her amusing espial turns into a terrifying cat-and-mouse game when her friends and associates start turning up dead – and hand-carved ivory chess pieces are dropped anonymously at her doorstep.

Numerous subplots pepper the basic storyline, most of which merely add minutes to an already plodding running time. These include Julia’s romantic history with Alvaro; her homosexual roommate and longtime friend Cesar (John Wood), possessing a coincidental relationship to the Belmonte family; inheritors Lola (Helen McCrory) and Max (Peter Wingfield) conspiring against one another for the sale of the painting; Menchu’s affair with Max; and “greedy street hustler” gypsy and chess expert Domenec (Paudge Behan) recreating the game in the picture to determine the possible moves, motives, and the order in which participants will be killed. There’s also a bit of a love story between Julia and Domenec.

“Bathroom accidents are very common,” suggests the casual police inspector as a fresh corpse is examined. It’s all a rather hokey notion, which fails to inspire humor or suspense as the body count rises. It’s almost as if the screenwriter was trying to craft a thriller set in as serene and calm an environment as possible – while avoiding any legitimately unnerving scenarios. Perhaps the primary purpose of the film was just to shoot Beckinsale naked while sipping wine, or to have her occasionally appear topless for brief sex scenes, or perhaps to watch her frequently chomp on raw celery.

The music is horrendously disruptive, as if the entire film is a romantic comedy abroad. It’s entirely wrong for this movie, setting up the mood incorrectly at every possible moment. Fluttery flute tunes, spirited percussion, merry violins, and festive xylophones pop up at random, which couldn’t further distance the moderately sinister plot from the sincerity it desperately needs. Even the final reveal is silly and predictable. “Great art is full of wonder and mystery,” muses Manuel, unintentionally pinpointing the chief flaw of the film. This theatrical adaptation of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s “The Flanders Panel” is missing all sense of wonder and mystery. Though everyone is represented by a chess piece and a correlation is made to characters dying or maneuvering based on the game depicted in the painting, it’s dragged out to a point of monotony. “Uncovered” is insultingly unintelligent, largely uneventful, and embarrassingly acted (particularly by Beckinsale in an early role).

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10