Writer/director Byrum Geisler's ambitious Before the Fall may not necessarily please Jane Austen purists, but it would be incredibly difficult to watch the film and not admire the largely successful effort to transform a classic love story into a heartfelt, satisfying gay romance that maintains, at least for the most part, the essence of Austen's work.
In the film, Ben Bennett (Ethan Sharrett) is an affluent, seemingly arrogant attorney who inadvertently insults Lee Darcy (Chase Conner), a working class factory worker inappropriately charged with domestic abuse. The two men establish a strong dislike for one another, though an unexpected face-to-face encounter leads the two men to find common ground and, over time, Ben falls in love with Lee.
Before the Fall is an extraordinarily beautiful film to watch courtesy of D.P. Brandon Garza's exceptionally clean and classic lensing that helps to evoke glimpses into Austen's world even as Geisler and his cast and crew transform that classical work into a contemporary framework. Structurally, Geisler has remained faithful to many of the Austen cinematic trademarks, though his bold vision for the film is without hesitation and feels initially jarring yet ultimately immensely romantic and wonderfully constructed.
The film had its world premiere at Chicago's Reeling Film Festival with notable other fest screenings at the Virginia Film Festival and the Out at the Movies International LGBT Film Fest. The first gay feature film shot in Appalachia, Before the Fall will be released on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu as part of its May 2017 worldwide release.
While such an ambitious endeavor could have easily felt like not much more than a gimmick, Geisler deserves major kudos for creating a talented ensemble that seems to understand, at least for the most part, the necessary nuances of Austen's writings while working hard to weave this particular transformation into that world. The leads are remarkably successful in doing so with Sharrett capturing Ben's faux arrogance and wounded psyche' who is still able to live into his family's affluence, the affluence being one of Geisler's spins on the character from Austen's writing. As Lee Darcy, Chase Conner exudes strength yet underneath that surface exists his uncertainty over his own sexuality. In more supporting roles, Brandi Price shines as Jane Gardiner while Jason Mac is exceptionally effective as Chuck Bingley and Carol Marie Rinn is memorable as Cathy Burge.
Before the Fall doesn't entirely convince in its transformation from literary and cinematic classic and feminist statemen to a contemporary gay love story, but Byrum Geisler's effort is so ambitious and admirable that you'll find yourself surrendering to the film's romantic spirit and complete and utter charm. For more information on the film, visit its website linked to in the credits and watch for it when released later next month.