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The Bostonians (1984)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 5 October 1984 (UK)
A Boston feminist and a conservative Southern lawyer contend for the heart and mind of a beautiful and bright girl unsure of her future.



(novel), (screenplay)
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Madeleine Potter ...
Mrs. Burrage
Dr. Tarrant
Barbara Bryne ...
Dr. Prance
Charles McCaughan ...
Music Hall Policeman
Nancy New ...
Henry Burrage (as John Van Ness Philip)
Mr. Pardon
Peter Bogyo ...
Mr. Gracie
Martha Farrar ...
Mrs, Farrinder
Dusty Maxwell ...
Newton Tarrant


19th-century Boston woman dedicated to the suffrage movement, meets a faith healer's daughter, a Mississippi lawyer also has eyes for the young woman. Written by Joyce Kavitsky <Kavitsky@erols.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A BEAUTIFUL FILM . . . An intimate and exquisite probe of the feminist heart. [Australia Theatrical]


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »





Release Date:

5 October 1984 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

A bostoniak  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Vanessa Redgrave replaced Glenn Close in the lead female role of Olive Chancellor. Close had agreed to play Olive but dropped out to film The Natural (1984). Close once said of this: "Finally, I got to play opposite every woman's fantasy, Robert Redford, and I never got to touch him!". Olive Chancellor was played in the end by Vanessa Redgrave who got Oscar nominated for Best Actress. There was a convincing belief prior to the ceremony that Redgrave would never win due to her controversial anti-Zionist spiel from her Oscar acceptance speech in 1977. According to Ivory, "I wanted as much as possible to have a completely American cast, but we were never able to work that out. We couldn't get a suitable American address to play that kind of part, so we sent Vanessa Redgrace the script, and she's marvelous. So I accepted her, English though she is with an English accent. In the 30s and 40s they used to hire English actors all the time for American films to play upperclass parts, remember? So I suppose I accept her on that basis. See more »


After a title card has advised us we are in New York City in l876, Olive Chancellor writes a check for Mr. Tarrant, dated Septmber 13, 1875. See more »


Dr. Prance: It's a pity you can't say "damn".
Olive Chancellor: Yes.
See more »


Featured in From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

"Past endurance"
28 August 2006 | by (CGSM,Soseaua Nationala 49) – See all my reviews

I've always been interested in the James adaptations,and in the Ivory films.

The Bostonians ' first half's calligraphy and distinguished Callophily is pleasing,then the groundless length becomes oppressive,annoying and exasperating,so that finally I loathed this movie.That's no way to treat the viewers!The unjustified and intolerable length does not serve the narration,not the atmosphere,nor the characters' development. Wasted footage!I began by liking The Bostonians ,I finished by loathing this movie that goes nowhere.(James was quite loquacious and blabbed with a senile joy,and the movie gets also very talkative.)

Reeve smiles intelligently and even ironically from time to time,which kind of contradicts his supposed plainness.He acts somehow beside the point,but I guess the idea of introducing him as a tom cat with transient smiles was meant to cheer a little this overlong H. James adaptation,and as a needed antidote for the crabby Mrs. Redgrave.Reeve is almost brave in feigning some real interest for Madeleine Potter's character.

The two actresses I liked are:(1)Nancy New (as "Olive Chancellor"'s far more attractive sister);(2)Nancy Marchand.

Mrs. Redgrave is a broody,headstrong,crabbed,exalted and poisonous,felonious damsel ,as interesting as Lenin's books.As a matter of fact,this poor woman looks rather feeble-minded.One hopes in vain she'll have her fling with "Verena Tarrant".She is here as cranky as ever.

Mrs. Madeleine Potter is very uninteresting, insipid,and as fascinating as a sausage.

Towards the final of The Bostonians ,I swore at the director, at the scriptwriter and at the entire cast.I would seize Ivory by his ears and force him watch many Bruce Lee movies and many Jackie Chan movies,so much that he gets able to make at least something that well-thought.

The whole plot is utterly nauseating.The characters are as viscid as the mollusks.This makes the movie a morass.This is a show,don't ask me to judge it as if it were a novel.I'm talking about Ivory's show,not about James' novel.The most annoying fact is that Mrs. Redgrave seems to enjoy her role;this is unacceptable!(But it is also obvious that no member of the cast is able to get what this show is about.This may serve,though in a paradoxical way,as a justification for them all!These people (Reeve, Nancy Marchand and Nancy New) performed hoping there is a meaning they are not yet able to comprehend.)

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