Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 1996. Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films. Screenplay by Laura Jones, based on the novel by Henry James. Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. Produced by Steve Golin, Monty Montgomery. Music by Wojciech Kilar. Production Design by Janet Patterson. Costume Design by Janet Patterson. Film Editing by Veronika Jenet. Academy Awards 1996. Golden Globe Awards 1996. New York Film Critics Awards 1996.
One of the richest and most rewarding adaptations of a Henry James novel. Nicole Kidman is at her peak as a young woman from America who travels to Europe to visit relatives, only to be flummoxed by countless suitors. Rejecting all her auspicious prospects (a hunky Viggo Mortensen, a rich and powerful Richard E. Grant) she instead decides she would like to experience more of life, something she feels she would not be at liberty to do as a married woman. When her uncle (John Gielgud) dies and leaves her a fortune, she finds herself with the means to live her dream. Meanwhile, a conniving friend (Barbara Hershey, also brilliant) throws the newly rich young lady in the path of her equally sneaky friend (John Malkovich at his most routine), and Kidman takes the bait hook, line and sinker, marrying the man and becoming his emotional punching bag. As usual, director Jane Campion is constantly looking for new ways to visually express her story, but thanks to her genius and her understanding of the writing she never overpowers the material with her fancy camerawork, instead adding to its emotional impact. Laura Jones’ screenplay will certainly offend devoted James readers (it starts at the book’s tenth chapter), but considering how much paring down needs to be done to get the novel to manageable movie length, we are grateful she at least kept much of James’s brilliant dialogue intact.