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Pascali's Island (film)

Pascali's Island is a 1988 British drama film, based on the novel by Barry Unsworth. It was written and directed by James Dearden. It stars Ben Kingsley, Charles Dance and Helen Mirren. It was entered into the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Pascali's Island
Pascali's Island film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Dearden
Produced byTania Blunden
Paul Raphael
Mirella Sklavounou
Written byJames Dearden
Based onPascali's Island
by Barry Unsworth
Music byLoek Dikker
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byEdward Marnier
Channel Four Films
Distributed byAvenue Pictures Productions
Release date
  • May 1988 (1988-05)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The action takes place in 1908 on the fictional Ottoman-ruled Greek island of Nisi. The film was largely shot on the Greek island of Symi and in Rhodes in the late summer of 1987.



In 1908 at Nisi, a small Greek Island under Ottoman rule, Turkish officials, Greek rebels, German emissaries and other foreign mercenaries mingle as they all try to keep the upper hand in that remote part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Basil Pascali, a half-British half-Cypriot man, considers himself a local feature on the island. Since his arrival twenty years before, he spies for the Sultan sending detailed reports about suspicious activities. He has no idea if anybody reads his observations as he never receives a reply but his payment still arrives regularly, so he continues his work as an informant with unfailing eagerness.

Pascali's suspicions are aroused with the arrival of Anthony Bowles, a British archeologist, whose purpose in visiting the island is unclear. Basil quickly befriends Bowles at the hotel’s lounge bar and offers the archeologist his services as translator. Pascali introduces Bowles to his close friend, Lydia Neuman, a bohemian Austrian painter resident in the island. While Lydia and Anthony become smitten with each other, Pascali slips into Bowles' hotel room to investigate.

In Bowles' suitcase, Pascali finds a fake antique, a small statue's head, which makes him suspect that the archeologist may be a fraud. Needing help arranging a deal to lease some land from the local Pasha, Bowles hires Pascali as a translator. At Bowles' insistence, the agreement is sealed officially with a contract. Suspecting Bowles' intentions, Pascali warns him that the Pasha is not a man to be crossed. On their part, the Turkish authorities tell Pascali that he will be held responsible if Bowles fails to make the full payment.

Spying on Bowles, Pascali finds the archeologist romancing Lydia; swimming naked with her in a remote cove. Pascali has been secretly in love with Lydia and envies the handsome British archeologist. Aroused by the experience, Pascali relieves his sexual frustration at a Turkish bath. Unexpectedly, Bowles wants to change the terms of his contract. He found some small archeological object of great significance, he claims, so he wants the right to excavate to be included in a new lease. Once again Pascali serves as translator and intermediary with the Pasha, who seeing the objects, a gold collar and the antique statue's head, refuses to grant the excavation rights. The Turkish Pasha wants to buy the lease back; Bowles asks for a much larger sum that he originally paid. Pascali tells Bowles that he does not need to keep the pretense with him. Pascali knows that the small statue's head is a forgery and that Bowles intention from the start was to swindle the Turkish authorities enticing them to buy the lease back at a higher amount. Pascali asks for part of Bowles earning in exchange for his silence forcing Bowles to concede.

The ploy becomes more complicated when, by chance, Bowles makes a real important archeological discovery: a large bronze statue of a boy from Greek times that is in pristine condition. Deciding to secretly retrieve the statue, Bowles asks Pascali for help delaying the closing of the lease deal for two more days. Pascali helps him not only with the Turkish authorities but also on the excavation. He intends to use the money Bowles offers him to travel to Constantinople and find out what has happened with his reports, the only thing that has given meaning to his life. Both Lydia and Bowles try to persuade Pascali to leave the island as the fall of the Ottoman Empire is imminent. However, believing that Bowles is going to swindle him with the money, Pascali denounces him with the Turkish authorities. He guides them that night to the excavation site. As Bowles and Lydia are planning to leave the island, with the help of the Americans, taking the statue with them, they are all shot and killed by the Turks.

Pascali, already regretting having betrayed his friends, returns home to find the money and a letter from Bowles trying to help him leave the island. Pascali is devastated for his useless mistakes. He concludes his reports were neither read nor kept. He loved both Lydia and Bowles but caused their deaths. As the Ottoman Empire crumbles, the only thing left for Pascali is to wait for the Greeks to come for him.



Caryn James, writing for The New York Times called it "Slow and stately, [the film] never gets beneath its own superficial gentility" and criticized the performances, dialogue and cinematography.[2] Conversely, Roger Ebert praised the cast's performances, writing "Everything in a film like this depends on performance, and it is hard to imagine how it could have been better cast."[3] Michael Wilmington of The Los Angeles Times called it "a film easy to recommend critically, but hard, in some ways, to like." At the same time, he wrote "This is quality film making with a vengeance."[4]


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Pascali's Island". Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  2. ^ James, Caryn (22 July 1988). "'Caught in a Psychological Pas de Trois'". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Roger Ebert review: Pascali's Island.
  4. ^ Wilmington Michael (29 July 1988). "'Pascali's Island' a Literate Terrain of Polished Surfaces'". The Los Angeles Times.

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