Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1993. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Cappa Production. Screenplay by Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks, based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus. Produced by Barbara De Fina. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Production Design by Dante Ferretti. Costume Design by Gabriella Pescucci. Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. Academy Awards 1993. Golden Globe Awards 1993. New York Film Critics Awards 1993.
Martin Scorsese, the man most famous for giving gangsters a loud, cinematic voice, has done the unthinkable with Edith Wharton’s novel: he has made one of the most elegant film ever created. Out-costuming the Merchant Ivory team, he’s taken the starch out of period dramas and perfectly translates Wharton’s writing on two important levels: having key passages from the book directly narrated (so languidly) by Joanne Woodward, and visually translating Wharton’s sentiments with his camera movements and Thelma Schoonmaker’s skillful editing. The story centres on the life of Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a young member of the New York upper set in the 1870s, who has the affluent life anyone in his position should have. He is a successful lawyer, he owns a beautiful home, and is just recently engaged to the beautiful and, ahem, proper May Welland (Winona Ryder). Upon announcing his engagement, he meets for the first time since childhood May’s cousin, Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has just returned from Europe after leaving her abusive Polish Count husband. It is soon obvious that Archer and Countess Olenska are locked in a passion that is practically deadly in the watchdog society they live in. Archer must decide if he will play by the rules and enjoy a comfortable life, or pursue his heart and risk doom.