Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA/France/United Kingdom, 2000. Merchant Ivory Productions, TF1 International. Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Henry James. Cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Music by Richard Robbins. Production Design by Andrew Sanders. Costume Design by John Bright. Film Editing by John David Allen.
The least intelligent adaptation of a Henry James novel made so far is this latest piece by the team of Merchant Ivory (Howards End, The Remains of the Day), who have definitely seen better days. Uma Thurman is the penniless young woman traipsing around Europe who falls in love with an also impoverished Italian Count (Jeremy Northam, the worst piece of miscasting in a James film since Cybil Shepherd murdered Daisy Miller). As their financial states don’t allow them to marry each other, Northam takes up with Thurman’s best friend (Kate Beckinsale), and Thurman ends up betrothed to Beckinsale’s billionaire father (Nick Nolte), but we’re never quite sure if she’s let her love for the prince burn away. The dramatic complications that ensue are never very interesting, and even Anjelica Huston (in a disappointingly bad performance) looks a little bored having to referee it all from the sides as the friend whom everyone takes in as a confidante. The filmmakers have never made a more beautiful film—every scene has a new wonder of production design that rivals their best work—but nothing escapes the clear fact that the actors are all under-rehearsed and absolutely unsure of what they’re doing (when a great actress like Huston changes her accent in every scene you know something is wrong with the management). Thurman is strong but her character is too confusedly written to allow her to be in any way effective, and Beckinsale is never convincing as the Isabel Archer-like character (which Nicole Kidman did far better in The Portrait of a Lady) who has her world of innocence shattered in one fell swoop.
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition