The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

PG-13  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  17 January 1997 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.3/10 from 8,575 users   Metascore: 61/100
Reviews: 67 user | 58 critic | 17 from

An American girl inherits a fortune and falls into a misguided relationship with a gentleman confidence artist whose true nature, including a barbed and covetous disposition, turns her life into a nightmare.



(novel), (screenplay)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Catherine Zago ...
Mother Superior
Alessandra Vanzi ...
Nun #2


Isabel Archer, an American heiress and free thinker travels to Europe to find herself. She tactfully rebuffs the advances of Caspar Goodwood, another American who has followed her to England. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, wise but sickly becomes a soulmate of sorts for her. She makes an unfortunate alliance with the creepy Madame Merle who leads her to make an even more unfortunate alliance with Gilbert Osmond, a smooth but cold collector of Objets' de art who seduces her with an intense but unattainable sexuality. Isabel marries Osmond only to realize she's just another piece of art for his collection and that Madame Merle and Osmond are lovers who had hatched a diabolical scheme to take Isabel's fortune. Isabel's only comfort is the innocent daughter of Osmond, Pansy, but even that friendship is spoiled when Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister, reveals the child's true parentage. Isabel finally breaks free of Osmond and returns to Ralph's bedside, where, while breathing his last, they ... Written by Teresa B. <O'>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for mature sensuality and some brief nudity | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

17 January 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Retrato de una dama  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

ITL 5,570,319,000 (Italy) (15 November 1996)


£575,908 (UK) (14 March 1997)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Jane Campion cast Martin Donovan after seeing him in the film Trust (1990). See more »


During the ball scene, a full orchestra can be heard while only a chamber orchestra (less than ten people) appears on the screen. See more »


Isabel Archer: Why should there be pain then? That's not the deepest thing.
Ralph Touchett: Pain's deep... but it passes, after all. It's passing now but love remains.
See more »

Crazy Credits

In loving memory of J.E.C. See more »


Referenced in The Creeps (1997) See more »


Six Cavatines Op 39 ('Ah! Non dir che non t'adoro')
Composed by Mauro Giuliani
Performed by Maurizia Barazzoni, soprano
From "Ariettes et Cavatines" (album number ARN 68281)
Courtesy of Arion Disques S.A., France
By Arrangement with Allegro Corporation
See more »

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User Reviews

A woman is torn between independence and love in this feminist adaptation of Henry James' novel.
14 March 2001 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

Many people could not warm up to this remarkable adaptation of Henry James' novel, A Portrait of a Lady. The dark, abusive themes and open ending are not part of typical costume drama fare, but both are true to Henry James' novel and to Jane Campion's vision.

Henry James originally wrote the novel in the 1880s. Intended as an exploration of what a woman might do if she were given independent means, James' book indicts women as being trapped by a weaker nature. Exploring the same material Campion's movie comes to a different conclusion.

The adaptation and direction are superb. The movie maintains the steady rhythm of doom that makes James' novel an enduring classic. There is no place where this is more evident in the film than in its lingering images. The camera holds on to the subject a moment longer than expected, making the viewer a little uncomfortable, and anticipating sudden disaster that never quite arrives. Ms. Campion directs this film like a horror film, which is exactly what it is.

The acting in this film is also convincing, from Nicole Kidman's paralyzed Isabel, to John Malkovich as a hypnotically terrifying pursuer. They are backed by a solid cast of major actors in minor roles, all adding to Isabel's complex societal tragedy.

Portrait of a Lady, particularly this film adaptation, is a remarkable example of how stories may stay the same, but their meanings change over time.

Related films include: Washington Square (1997), The House of Mirth (2000), The Buccaneers (1995)(mini).

25 of 26 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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