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In the Novel: Everyone Breaks Catherine's Heart
nammage18 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
(This review may spoil the novel)

I'm not really going to talk too much on the film; I will touch on it. I read a review on here last night that prompted me to read the book. Read half last night, and the other half this morning. I'm not really a fan of Henry James. Never cared for his work, always found him egotistical and condescending of his readers. This film is nothing like the book in that guise. Also, the father in the book was egotistical, condescending, crude, and unloving of anyone, probably even himself. He did love his wife and son but they died; he did not love his daughter. It wasn't her he was protecting, it was Catherine's money she inherited, and his money, of course. The entire novel is solely about two things: money and Catherine: everyone loves the money (but Catherine) and no one loves Catherine but Catherine loves everyone. Don't get me wrong: she's used to wealth and like anyone, she cares in that guise but she would gladly give it up for love. Catherine loves her father, her Aunt, Morris, even herself. She's filled with love and each of those characters, in the novel, breaks her heart one by one. In the novel the Aunt fantasizes a lot, she's carefree, jubilant, and a bit of a child in her own way but does fear her brother. In the film she's made into a maid of the daughter, and fears her brother. In the book she's young looking and attractive. Nothing against Maggie Smith but she's not young looking or attractive in the film.

Catherine is a strong person. Morris is weak. He wants the money, and in the novel he's not shy about expressing that to everyone because he's poor, without employment (for the most part), and he squanders everything; in some sense he believes he can make a standing with Catherine's money and future inheritance. The part in the film where he states with passion he doesn't care about Catherine's father's money is a lie. Especially to the character of the book. Now, while in the novel I don't believe he actually loves or ever loved Catherine I did feel he cared about her well-being. He wasn't total scum but close to it. He was still scum because Catherine already had an inheritance from her mother she received $10,000 a year. In today's dollars, that's almost $200,000 a year. She, in her own right, was already very wealthy. Of course the father's wealth was $30,000 per year which equates to almost $900,000 in today's money. And Morris wanted that, too! But he knew of being poor and I think he cared enough about her not to want her in that position.

The father is total scum. He cares nothing for his daughter's well- being except in reflection of himself but he'd gladly have her be a pauper to prove himself right; and his entire life, from the moment that Morris comes into his daughter's life, is to prove that very point. However, in the novel he actually liked Morris. The only thing he didn't like was him marrying his daughter. Also, in the novel, the father is very sarcastic. That does not show in the film, and he's forthright with Catherine in the sense that he allows her to do as she pleases but mentions in heartbreaking mannerisms how disappointed he will be if she goes ahead and does the things he doesn't care for. The film, he's not like that all. Not sarcastic, doesn't really let her do what she wants, and seems pretty tyrannical; like the scene in the film on the cliff. I thought he was going to push her over. That scene never happened in the novel--or the urination scene, prostitution scene etc.,--Yes, they went on a long walk and got lost but there was no implication he wanted to kill his own daughter -- how would that look? He's all about appearance in the novel. Seemed over-dramatic, in my opinion.

The Aunt is a bit mischievous in the novel. Poking her nose where it most likely doesn't belong only to make her brother's ego bruised without repair; a sense of perhaps comeuppance for the way he treated her, or perhaps even stranger in a sort of crush on Morris though the novel calls it a sort of mother/son or brother/sister relationship; the latter probably in reference to the indifference to her own brother. And, in such manner, in concern to the novel, she may have unknowingly broke Catherine's heart.

Catherine, in the novel, feels so unloved by everyone. They're always referring to her as dimwitted, stupid, plain etc., and James makes note that she does have her strengths and qualities that everyone seems to disregard as nothing but childish musings. But, she goes on loving them, even to the end. Even when you believe she has finally given up and relented to the fact she can give no more love. No! She still loves but as stated: she's not dimwitted and stupid. In the film, she's always sad, or crying, or slow to recognize the truth of things. As much as I do not care for James, he did not write that as Catherine in the novel. At least not in my viewpoint. And though Catherine recognizes in the film the cruelty of who and what her father is, it only seems to be mentioned at the end of the film. Morris mentions the cruelty of who he really is, and as a young woman in love, she doesn't care but as an "old maid" of 40 at the end of the novel, while you know she still loves Morris, her strength of knowing that while she does love him he'll never love her, only her money, and her father's money.

The novel has passion, the film does not.
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If you do by chance attempt to watch this movie, stop and read this review before clicking play
correllblair17 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I can't tell if I am naive to the point of a child or such a hopeless romantic as Catherine herself. I never doubted Morris for a second, and I was so taken aback by the last 20ish minutes of the movie that I thought that I had to be watching a new movie. I honestly felt tricked. There were no allusions to his actual intentions until the very end, and by then I was wholeheartedly rooting for them to succeed. By the end, nothing was resolved and I was confused. I don't suggest that I am a genius of reading between the lines, but shouldn't it have been the least bit obvious that he was duping this woman? And how had she not caught on when she was clearly not as weak-minded as her father professed her to be? I'm just a girl who wanted a nice, attractive man to fall in love with an awkward, introspective girl.. Is that too much to ask Henry James? Truthfully, I fell in love with this movie like many other romantic period pieces, (such as Jane Eyre 2010, The Young Victoria, A Royal Affair, The Widow of St.Pierre, The Piano, and P&P 2005) and I literally stayed up until 5 in the morning to finish this movie because I was so enthralled, but the ending killed me. I am writing this review from the grave. Already I am rewriting and editing the ending to fix my own selfish purpose settling my whiplashed mind. Had that scene in the rain ended differently, I would be dreaming soundly in my bed at this early hour instead of writing this review with a heavy heart and bunched up nerves. I give this movie a three for the sake of the beginning, but I am so distraught that a three is all I could muster. Hopefully those interested in a movie of amazing and fresh historical romance and drama will skip the ending and make their own after reading my review.
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The Fruits of Love.
Robert J. Maxwell26 November 2016
First, this is the Henry James story from which "The Hereiss" was made with Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift as the cad. Second, this Washington Square looks nothing like the Washington Square on whose benches I used to sleep in my wanton youth.

In this adaptation, well, the stern Albert Finney is a wealthy 19th-century squire in New York. His beloved wife dies in childhood and what does he get in return? A gauche little piglet, eager to please but unaccomplished. She can't even sing. I can sing. You can sing. But Catherine can't sing. Moreover she gets so anxious she pees on the carpet in front of all the guests. OMG! At least Catherine grows up to be Jennifer Jason Leigh, which is a considerable improvement. As Randolf Scott said about his leading lady in one of his Westerns: "She ain't ugly." However, she's still treated by everyone as an untalented embarrassment to the family.

Except at a dance where she meets the disarming and unspeakably handsome young Morris Townsend, played by Tom Chaplin, and this despite her wearing a dress that everyone -- even her father -- seems to perceive as "hideous." It looked okay to me. I know nothing about women's grooming but at least this appears to be post-Civil War New York because the styles include fulsome ringlets and not those unsightly loaves of hair that used to hang down over a lady's ears. At the same time, and I swear I'm not making this up, she's wearing grapes in her hair like Carravagio's Bacchus. End of comments on grooming.

This charming Morris Townsend -- good family but no job and no money -- devotes a great deal of attention to Catherine. Dad, when not bathing in gold coins, has watched his piglet grow up from childhood, attributes the attention to greed, while the breathless Catherine sees his interest as entirely personal. Townsend's confrontations with Finney lead nowhere. One expresses his love, the other his cynicism.

Albert Finney, as the slyly smiling Dad, doesn't trust Morris Townsend as far as he could toss him. Finney's character is tough-minded, as Henry James' brother William would have put it. He's brilliant at seeing through people and things. He's a good actor too. So is everyone else, even Chaplin, the weakest. But they're professionals enacting roles. They seem to do exactly what their characters would do. Except for Jennifer Jason Leigh who does that but who also brings something special to the role. She looks right: not by any means ugly but no glamour-puss either. Her most fleeting gestures don't just send up the right flag, they introduce peculiarly individual notes. It's not Catherine looking embarrassed and it's not quite Leigh looking embarrassed. Leigh and the scriptwriter have coordinated their efforts and constructed a recognizable personality in Catherine. A fine performance.

The direction is functional and well done. I like the way Agnieszka Holland handles the scenes. The maids in these stories are generally nothing more than background figures scuttling around but here they carry their own personalities. The production design is nicely joined too. The Sloper apartment LOOKS Victorian with all those ferns and potted plants and mirrors and stone-heavy overstuffed furniture. It looks somehow unshakable -- practically eternal.

Finney is unable to shake his daughter from her infatuation and takes her to France for six months as a trial. Then he extends the trip for another six months. "No doubt to one of those lesser countries, densely populated, that civilization has yet to reach," opines Finney's fussy sister, Maggie Smith, who is entirely on the side of the swain. Finney himself is no angel. He thinks so little of his daughter that he can't imagine anyone but a desperate man wanting her for a wife. And he has never forgiven her for her mother's death in childbirth. Leigh has a ten thousand dollar annuity but Finney intends to cut her off from his legacy if she marries Townsend. A conundrum all around.

Townsend has found a job, ugh, and he leaves her for some months of business in New Orleans, promising to return and hoping to find her less distraught at his absence. She begs to be married and go with him but he refuses her. "You think too much of money," she tells him. Angry to the point of honesty, he shouts, "I wanted you for your money! Would you want me without MY attributes?" Good question. Maybe you can live on the fruits of love, maybe not, but can you live on the banana peels?

I don't think I'll describe it but I found the ending confusing. I don't know what was going through either Catherine's head or Townsend's. Henry James considered the novella one of his lesser works. I think I enjoyed "The Heiress" more because of its relative clarity.
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compelling performances
SnoopyStyle6 March 2016
Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was a chubby, bumbling only child. Her mother died in childbirth. Her father Dr. Austin Sloper (Albert Finney) is dismissive of her. He raised her along with her Aunt Lavinia Penniman (Maggie Smith). At her cousin Marian Almond (Jennifer Garner)'s engagement party, the socially awkward Catherine is introduced to Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin) who seems to be actually interested in her. Her father assumes that Morris is more interested in her inheritance.

The younger Jennifer Jason Leigh always brought an innocence to her characters. She sidelines her usual sass in this one and she is definitely no prostitute here. I think her character needs a plainer looking girl but JJL is terrific nevertheless. The acting is first rate from Finney and Maggie Smith. It's a little slow at times but these are compelling performances.
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Unnecessary alterations to story defuse the original power.
mark.waltz15 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a story that has always bothered me from the first time I saw the original 1949 movie ("The Heiress") many years ago to the recent Broadway revival. It is interesting to note that Judith Ivey who plays the younger sister of Albert Finney here played the older sister in the 2012 production (played by Maggie Smith here). And being a look at polite American society, this can be compared to "Downton Abbey" from the opposite side of the Atlantic, with Dan Stevens playing the young man squiring around Catherine Sloper in that production as well. Those who only know Dame Maggie Smith from "Downton Abbey" and the "Harry Potter" movies will enjoy her here in a change of pace role as a really kind matron who anxiously longs to see her niece (Jennifer Jason Leigh) get together with the poor but charming Morris Townsend (Ben Chapin) even though her doctor brother (Finney) is dead set against their even seeing each other socially.

The real conflict here is the relationship between father and daughter, a complicated and resentful one. Father hates daughter because his beloved wife died giving birth to her, and he was never able to relate to her emotionally. While Catherine has inheritance from her mother's side of the family, her father makes it clear that she will inherit nothing from him if she does not do his bidding, which means not marrying Chapin. While the character of Catherine is supposed to be plain, Leigh doesn't fit the bill. The problem with her performance is that Catherine seems quite hard, while DeHavilland's Catherine was fragile and only plain by the fact that she wore a very severe hairstyle that was not flattering to her face. That made her seem more suppressed, and her inner beauty was more obvious. Leigh also makes her character much more clinging, so ultimately, she is not as likable, closer to the unattractive heroine of the musical "Passion" than to what the original play and movie had her to be.

As Dr. Austin Sloper, Albert Finney is excellent, a combination of social mores, hidden hatred of his daughter, and in conflict with himself between his coldness and his Hippocratic oath. Smith, as always, is the consummate scene stealer, making her Aunt Livinia one you'd love to have over for cocktails and babysit the kids. It makes no sense that Leigh's Catherine would blame her aunt for Morris walking out on her. It is nice, however, to see the great Maggie playing an older character who is filled with strawberry ice cream in her heart instead of ice water in her veins and a wisecrack on her tongue. Even without the witty dialog she has gotten to say on stage and in films throughout her career, Smith delivers each line as if she was spreading butter on corn-Sweet, a bit salty and delicious to the ear.

As for the alterations I mention, there seems no other reason to do this than to feminize the narrative. They took out the "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" lesson of rejection by altering the plot twists towards the end. In the original versions both on stage and on screen, you can tell that Catherine will go on with her life whether being a spinster or not, but something tells me here that Leigh's Catherine will end up like "Great Expectation's" Miss Haversham and be one of the most feared and disliked characters around. It is the twist of the ending which always bothered me, but in this version, I saw no need to change it.
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Nice try, but.....
howardeisman24 October 2010
I first saw "The Heiress" when it first came out. I was about 12, but old enough to be fascinated by the characters and the basic conflict. Wow! I read the James' book "Washington Square" about 30 years later. I was disappointed. It was a rambling story told by a busybody with none of the dramatic high points of The Heiress; it is Henry James" first novel and has none of the intriguing nuances of his later novels.

This film stays closer to the novel than "The Heiress". Thus, it is much less of a drama. The attempt to do the book is commendable, but it is not necessarily the route to an entertaining film. Here, the characterizations are obscurely unmotivated (Finney), over-the-top (Smith), uneven and sometimes weird (Leigh), and charmless and off-putting (Chapin). The musical score is intrusive. All of this contrasts badly with "The Heiress", in which the characters had far more depth, authenticity, and appeal(certainly Morris and even the minor characters).

This longer version attempts a better exposition of the characters' psychology. Good ambition but it fails. Take Dr. Sloper. A hard working, self-made man who despises Morris Townsend mainly because he is a self-centered loafer. It is not snobbery which motivates him, Morris is a gentleman, but his belief in merit and good works. He does love his daughter but she disappoints him with her shyness and inability to master much of life. He pushes her to manage better, but he is constantly frustrated. For her to marry Morris would be to shatter all he believes about how people should live. A bad guy? A good guy? All of this comes out in Ralph Richardson"s performance in "The Heiress.' Finney just seems like an nasty oaf in comparison.
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Very Henry James
gradyharp14 September 2010
Henry James' WASHINGTON SQUARE is well served in this solid film whose screenplay was adapted by Carol Doyle and has been directed with secure wisdom of James' style by Polish director Agnieszka Holland )'Europa, Europa', 'Red', 'Blue', 'Copying Beethoven', etc). The musical score is in the capable hands of Jan AP Kaczmarek and the Director of Photography is Jerzy Zielinski, and with all these elements in place, the last ingredient in making this a successful adaptation of a Henry James novel is the cast.

Fortunately the assembled cast matches the above credentials. Albert Finney is superb as the wealthy Dr. Austin Sloper who hoards his money in his mansion on Washington Square and whose overprotective rule of his less than attractive daughter Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) - who is also under the influence of her overbearing Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith, still chewing the scenery as usual but convincing) - has put an impasse to Catherine's infatuation with the handsome but poor Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin): if Catherine should choose to marry Morris she would be cut off as his heiress. James' models of womanhood are played well by Jennifer Garner as the niece that marries and breeds and her mother Aunt Elizabeth (Judith Ivey, currently wowing audiences in a revival of 'The Glass Menagerie'). Distance, imposed by the disapproving Dr. Sloper in escorting Catherine to Europe for a year, doesn't appear to squelch the passion between Catherine and Morris, but Morris finds work which takes him away from the returned Catherine, only to learn upon return that Catherine will not inherit her father's fortune - a glitch that sadly changes the relationship of what had appeared to be a true love romance. In the end the film follows Henry James' view of the world of his time - a palette for social criticism. Made in 1997, this film holds up very well indeed.

Grady Harp
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Jennifer Jason Leigh Is Miraculous
robert-temple-117 August 2009
This is a masterpiece of film-making, both because of the talented Polish director Agnieszka Holland, and the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh. This is the best performance by Leigh which I have seen, and I always think she is inspired, but here she truly transcends herself. It is simply one of the greatest cinematic performances of the 1990s. Rarely has an actress so intimately portrayed the most subtle nuances of mood so well. Such an intimate film could only have been directed by a woman, and I don't believe Leigh could have done this for a male director, not even her chum, the late Robert Altman. The performance by Leigh is really as delicate as gossamer, and she spins a transparent silky web of tormented love with such intensity she outdoes even Olivia de Havilland, who played the role before her in 'The Heiress' long ago, and to do that is a miracle! The only way to describe Leigh's performance is to say that she has a 'naked face'. She seems determined to hide nothing. Pathological shyness has rarely been shown so clearly. Throughout the film, Leigh does a progressive striptease of the soul, and she ends up with nothing on but her hard-earned sense of self worth, which cloaks her admirably. Ben Chaplin is a perfect choice for the young suitor, and he mixes goodness and elegance with the desperate grasping nature of the character in an ideal cocktail that is deadly while it is sweet. And Albert Finney surpasses himself as the father so eaten up with bitterness at his wife's death in childbirth that he can never forgive his pathetic daughter for 'killing her', and actively hates and persecutes her for her entire lifetime. Henry James wrote the novel, and he knew a thing or two about people. I once knew someone who had actually met Henry James, namely Dorothy Pound, and I asked her what he was like. (Well you would, wouldn't you?) She said she never had any real conversation with him because he spent all his time talking to Ezra, and they would meet from time to time strolling in Hyde Park, when James always had an attractive young woman on his arm, he would say something pleasant to the Pounds, and then he would be off. I said but what was he LIKE? She said: 'He wore a beautiful red waistcoat.' So there you go. And so does Albert Finney, as a crusty old port drinker with an American accent in this harrowing and tragic tale of intensity in the Square. By the way, the film was shot in Baltimore, and achieves a high degree of authenticity with well-preserved old houses, both inside and out. As time passes in the story, the style of 19th century costumes changes appropriately. Everything is done with finesse. The film commences with the most stunning continuous moving shot, starting in the square, then going up to the front door of the house, 21 Washington Square, then entering the house, moving through it, going up the stairs, and entering the bedroom while a newborn baby cries O.S. and the mother lies dead on her bed with her eyes open wide. Finney lies down beside her and says: 'Now you will be together in heaven with our son.' What a way to open a film! And the final scene of the film, which I must not describe, is equally impressive in a completely different way, with the last shot featuring an incredible lighting effect. Technically, the film is perfect. Holland did not have Wajda as her mentor for nothing, and she is a true artist. I believe this is the finest of all the many excellent films based on Henry James stories, and most of them are so good, that is high praise indeed.
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Not Just Costumes and Manners
gpeevers19 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Period piece costume drama that looks very good and features some very good performances. Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the plain and simple daughter of a well-to-do doctor (Albert Finney), whose is raised by her aunt (Maggie Smith) when her mother passes away in childbirth. When a handsome young man (Ben Chaplin) becomes interested in Catherine she is transformed, but her father suspects the young man is only after her money.

The performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh is quite impressive as she shows her characters development throughout the film, the rest of the cast is also by and large quite strong particularly Albert Finney.

Thanks to both the original novel and the adaptation by director Agniezka Holland and her screenwriter the film manages to present a story with a definite edge and characters with layers rather than just a simple costume drama.

Based on the Henry James novel, previously adapted as "The Heiress" by William Wyler in 1949 with Olivia de havilland (Oscar as Best Actress), Montgomery Clift and Ralph Richardson
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No Explanation, No Promises,
Chrysanthepop26 April 2009
Normally I don't enjoy romantic dramas. There have been some exceptions. I have mixed opinions regarding 'Washington Square'. Starting with the way it 'looks', the interiors and the costumes look very precise to the time but the outdoor sets lack authentic appearance. The extras seem to sleepwalk through the park. The cinematography is too ordinary to have any effect. The movie, at times, moves at a slow pace. I also would have liked to see more development and growth in Catherine after Morris's departure. Instead, here the movie quickly moves from one event to another. Jennifer Jason Leigh might be an odd choice and contrary to others, I thought she did quite a fine job. She may not be physically unattractive (as Catherine is portrayed to be). Actually the lack of makeup show her to be quite a natural beauty but she gets the character right in every other aspect. Albert Finney and Ben Chaplin are good too and Maggie Smith is gold. Judith Ivey too deserves special mention. I liked the music, particularly the song 'sung' by Catherine and Morris by the piano. The dialogues are notable too. Especially the one between Catherine and her father and the one in the final sequence with her and Morris.'Washington Square' makes for a decent one-time watch, mostly because of the performances.
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faithful enough and better than many movies out there
maveltre26 January 2008
I can understand not loving this movie, but the scathing reviews are questionable. And I'm not normally one to recommend the taste of teenagers, but I want to tell you that my high school English classes, so film-weary that they are quite hard to please, liked this film and, with a bit of help with the dialogue, especially between the older adults, tuned in very quickly to the idea of the father's protectionism, not truly for his daughter's benefit, but for his own pride. (I agree with one or two other reviewers who pointed out the distastefulness of the the young Catherine's pitiful reaction to stage fright and a scene with veiled, literally, copulation in the background, not to mention that the young Catherine's character being portrayed as fat and, thus, unlikeable was unnecessary and not believable, given that the adult Catherine was so slim. But these are minor problems.) I also wasn't happy with the scene in which Catherine reacts so melodramatically to Townsend's departure, as there was surely never a Jamesian heroine who behaved so, but as a story about familial and romantic love and all its difficulties, it is definitely worth watching, especially if you are looking for a film for different age levels.
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Sexed-up but intelligent dramatisation of subtle story of love and money
LouE1530 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
(** no serious story spoilers **) This is a very sexed-up dramatisation of the great Henry James' original novel. However, the novel is a masterpiece of nuance and understated psychological drama, and for once I freely forgive director Agnieszka Holland for taking daring liberties: I think it's a better film for it, even if it's not a better adaptation. Ben Chaplin's beautiful 'hero' is ideally cast, a man with just a hint of vain menace to his passionate approaches. And Jennifer Jason Leigh gives an excellent, quietly confident performance as the plain, unloved Catherine Sloper, which will always make me admire her skill and bravery; plus the tension and even heat she helps generate in her scenes with Chaplin feel very real and powerful.

In "Washington Square", Catherine Sloper, only surviving child of the formidable, rich and widowed Doctor Sloper, attracts the attentions of a young, handsome and clever man, one Morris Townsend. Catherine falls in love with Morris, and a battle of wits ensues as Catherine's father attempts to expose the young man as a fortune-hunter, and Morris attempts to secure Catherine without paying too high a price for her; while Catherine's dreadful aunt Penniman (wonderful Maggie Smith) meddles everywhere. The battle escalates and the stakes turn out to be painfully high for them all.

To begin with, this is Chaplin's and Finney's film, lingering over their witty and pointed exchanges. Finney is masterful in his dry, clever, laconic performance as Doctor Sloper, carrying out beautifully, and to a perfect pitch, the amused detachment of the elegant and rather cruel man in the novel. (For an early Finney performance, check out 1970's "The Gumshoe".) But as the story develops, Catherine's growing confidence and dignity are a marvellous contrast to the increasing bafflement of the once assured and urbane Doctor. This exchange, late in the original novel, between the Doctor and Catherine's kind aunt, Mrs Almond, shows something of the metal of both their characters:

"At first I had a good deal of a certain genial curiosity about it; I wanted to see if she really would stick. But, good Lord, one's curiosity is satisfied! I see she is capable of it, and now she can let go." "She will never let go," said Mrs. Almond. "Take care, or you will exasperate me too. If she doesn't let go, she will be shaken off--sent tumbling into the dust! That's a nice position for my daughter. She can't see that if you are going to be pushed you had better jump. And then she will complain of her bruises." "She will never complain," said Mrs. Almond.

Any girl who's ever felt ugly, unloved and underestimated by her family or friends, should I think draw moral support from this film. It's very sad, very poignant and real, but manages to deliver out of the rather dismal ending of the book, a really quite positive message about survival, and that rather old-fashioned sounding (but nonetheless important) concept – moral courage.

If you enjoyed this intense and well-cast film, I'd highly recommend your reading Henry James' extraordinary and deep novel to fully flesh out the nuances of the story.
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Major Disappointment, Totally BORING Film
doniejamesqm9 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I love Henry James books and Washington Square was no exception. I was very excited to see a new movie coming out, based on the book of that title. Jennifer Jason Lee is an exceptional actress and Ben Chaplin good enough to play the lead roles. Albert Finney is miscast and doesn't carry the role well. I wanted to shoot Maggie Smith....or rather her silly, insipid role. The real problem and what's lacking in this latest version is a good script, music, and direction.

I fell asleep in the theater watching this long, drawn out and exceptionally boring movie. There are more pauses in the dialog than a Pinter Play. In the book I felt a deep caring for Catherine Sloper and her life. The movie had just the opposite effect. I also disliked the twist where her aunt has a sexual attraction to Morris. Eeeeeeeek. YUK.

Watch it if you can't sleep, it's a definite snoozer. Don't watch it if you're depressed. You'll need Zoloft after this.

Sure, "The Heiress" was exceptional with Olivia Haviland and Montgomery Clift in the title roles. The actor who played her father was on the mark as the uncaring, cold father....still grieving for his dead wife and hating Catherine for it. The movie was not faithful to the book but neither is this one.

This movie was a box office flop. I have no doubts as to why.
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Four Characters, Squared
tedg12 June 2007
Henry James is one of our clearest writers of dense phrases. Reading him feels like swimming through interesting bodies tightly packed in pomegranate flavored honey, desiccated down to smudges on a page, then reconstituted by the eye through memories of that sweet fluid. Like that.

It was he who refined the notion of internal, contradictory dialog and sometime untrusted narrative. He's important to what we have in film.

I thought of him recently as I am in a patch of good movies. I saw a Louis Malle film last night and the style reminded me of James: economical ambiguity. Clean, but open. And the night before that I saw a film of a novel by George Eliot and I recalled what James said of Elliot — that she had a horrible face, but he fell in love with her — this from a man who never married and whose ability to love is questioned. Reminded me of Catherine from this story.

So I sought this out and was surprised to find Jennifer Leigh. She's a sort of female Johnny Depp. Though she is accused of being overlarge in her characterizations, I find her engaging in pretty much every project. This business of exaggeration to be real is tricky business, and excess works in many cases. Visceral commitment trumps delicate reality, because reality IS commitment.

Here's the problem: this is a complex book, a braid of four galaxies of urges collected in four beings and squared off against each other. The contrivance is only in the setup: the tragic wheels turn ultra-realistically.

The film does not, cannot, reflect this with anywhere near the internal view of the novel. But I liked it. One cinematic trick that used is that nearly every scene has something in the background. It may be an obtrusive object, but is as likely to be a secondary character with some non-secondary trait. Or some activity you see in the back and can't ignore even though the continuity of the narrative is in the foreground.

And that foreground is embodied in four quite talented actors, each with a fundamentally different acting style. These actors were selected because their styles contrast with that of the characters. Leigh for instance is one of the most visibly confident actors alive, while Finney who plays the overbearing father, has a style based on obvious fear of being.

It isn't quite James. But it is superb, and in its way superior to any Mamet film. The woman making this is anything but clumsy.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Black hole of Ruin and Destruction
SDKruchten11 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The potential movie extravaganza, set during the 19th century, failed to produce. With big-name actors like Maggie Smith, Albert Finney, and many others, there was no reason for the movie to fail. However, the movie lacked an ending, had a sorry excuse for a plot line, and fell to pieces with its continuity. A typical story of a rich girl and a poor boy, brought together by love and destroyed by beauty (or lack thereof) and disapproval, has a touching side of a mother's early death and an absentee father. The father, played by Finney, is a disturbed man, tormenting his daughter in life as well as death. He believes his daughter's lack of good looks would ruin his fortune by marrying beneath their social status. The actors vainly attempted to salvage what was left of the storyline. Washington Square is a black hole of ruin and destruction, wasting precious time of those who sorrowfully watch. I give this movie a 1 instead of a 0, purely for the actors' attempts. Save yourself, stay clear of Washington Square.
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Sauerkraut328 August 2006
I got THE HEIRESS, and WASHINGTON SQUARE. I love them both, but prefer WASHINGTON SQUARE. I love the period style and costumes. In fact I have the VHS and asked ex hubby to put it into a DVD format because I am DESPERATE to get the ITALIEN WORDS OF the Italian Laurate Poet SALVATORE QUASIMODO "Tu chiami Una Vita". The couple sings this song (kind of also the theme song and used as instrumental in the film also) and it is also later song 2 x more by trained voices. Simply beautiful, sticks with you. If anyone can completely understand the Italian, please share the TEXT. I got ex hubby to put it on DVD mainly because I wanted to see the CREDITS, bookmark when the song is on and when the credits go to "Tu chiami Una Vita" which would be difficult with my system via VHS.

Would it not be GREAT to go to the FILM Editors themselves to get that information, or see it also mentioned as music credits on the sleeve?? Karla
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Great movie
reececup4 October 2005
Holland's Washington Square was a great movie. I thought that the actors portrayed James's descriptions of them very well. The film is much more faithful to the original Novel by Henry James than its predecessor, The Heiress (Dir. by William Wyler), which was heavily based on a stage play of Washington Square. Although there is a feminist slant put on the movie, which is not really seen in the novel, this is a fair interpretation made by the director. It is easy to see that Catherine's defiance of her father's wishes (or demands, if you prefer) could be a precursor to the feminist movement that began later in the century. Both films are a must see, but most importantly, read the novel. For a 19th century book, it's very easy to read!
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It does not work for me.
glencominc27 August 2005
I do not know who is to blame, Miss Leigh or her director, but her performance as Catherine is almost impossible to watch. Ben Chaplin on the other hand does a superior job - against all odds as far as I am concerned. His character is entirely too charming and appealing. but certainly not shown as greedy enough, to put up with Leigh's character's silliness. Chaplin appears bemused by what cannot possibly be understood as Leigh's shyness and lack of grace, but rather her orthopedic unsteadiness. There has to be some element of believability to his interest, but as played it is incomprehensible. The performances do not jibe. Maggie Smith and Albert Finney are, of course, wonderful despite any effort to derail them. The supporting cast is also a pleasure to watch. What a pity, too, the leads don't work together because the production is lovely to look at.
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'The Heiress' was superior to this remake
style-231 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This adaptation, like 1949's *The Heiress*, is based on the Henry James novel. *The Heiress*, starring Olivia de Havilland, remains as a well-respected piece of work, though less true to James' original story than this new remake, which retains James' original title. It is the story of a awkward, yet loving daughter (Leigh), devoted to her father (Finney) after her mother dies during childbirth. The arrogant father holds his daughter in no esteem whatsoever, and considers her, as well as all women, simpleminded. When a young man (Chaplin) of good family and little fortune comes courting, the Father is naturally suspicious, but feeling so sure that his daughter could hold no interest for any man, is convinced that the young man is a fortune hunter and forbids her to see him. Leigh is a controversial actress – most either love her or hate her – and she always has a particular edginess and tenseness to her style, like she's acting through gritted teeth. She's not bad in this, and she handles her role relatively deftly – it's just an awkward role for any actress, making the audience want to grab the character by her shoulders and shake her until she comes to her senses. While the character garners a lot of sympathy, she's not particularly likable. The very handsome and immensely appealing Ben Chaplin (previously seen in *The Truth About Cats and Dogs*) plays his role with the exact amount of mystery required to keep the audience guessing whether he is after her fortune, or is really in love with her. Maggie Smith is one of the finest actresses alive and raises the level of the movie considerably with her portrayal of the well-meaning aunt. Finney is marvelous, of course, as the father who threatens to disinherit his daughter for her disobedience, but the daughter is willing to risk that for the man she loves. But does her ardent suitor still want her without her fortune? This is only one instance where *Washington Square* differs from *The Heiress*. Another instance is the ability to stick with it. It is a handsome movie that is as tedious as a dripping faucet, offering too little story in too long of a movie.
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If you like this movie, then you should try....
chunkymonkey2422 December 2004
If you liked this movie, then you should try William Wyler's "The Heiress" (1949) featuring GWTW's Melanie, Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. Both of these movies contain moving performances from all of the lead actors. Catherine Sloper is skillfully portrayed as an unworldly, naive, young woman who falls for financially-unmatched, well-cultured, dashing Morris Townsend. The overprotective yet unloving Dr. Austin Sloper, Catherine's father, will make your blood boil! Both movies have the making for some intense soap opera-like drama - suspenseful in every regard, keeps you reaching for that bowl of popcorn or that box of Kleenex. To truly understand the plight of the young lovers and especially to get a sense of the tension behind the relationship between daughter and father, one must view "The Heiress" and "Washington Square" for the two films are lovely by themselves, but they certainly complement each other. You'll see what I mean after watching both ;) Enjoy!
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KoolJool8174 February 2004
It is unfair to compare the 1997 film "Washington Square" to the 1949 film "The Heiress." "Washington Square" is a faithful adaptation of Henry James' eponymous classic novel; "The Heiress" is based on the stage adaptation of the James novel by Augustus and Ruth Goetz.

Hence, the two most dramatic scenes in "The Heiress" do not appear in "Washington Square" -- Morris Townsend's cruel jilting of Catherine right before their planned elopement, and Catherine's revenge in the final scene, where Morris is left pounding on the bolted door.

There were many fine performances in "Washington Square," most notably Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her many expressions of hurt, pain, and anguish are heart-breaking to watch. Ben Chaplin's outstanding portrayal of "the fortune hunter" is surprisingly sympathetic. Maggie Smith's Aunt Lavinia is seen as meddling and trouble-making. The soundtrack is beautiful, and the set designs and costumes provide an accurate portrayal of 19th century New York.
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moving ,a real tear jerker
sean-2762 May 2003
I found this movie by accident while browsing sky channels. I fell in love with it then, managed to watch it several times before i decided to buy. I dont know if it it touches all those who have felt betrayed or if katherine is so believable that the leaking eyes are for her!!I have recommended it to all my friends who enjoy a good weepy.The ending is not sad but gives me a sense of strength and survival,a kind of "good on ya Katherine" having read other reviews it amazes me how differently people experience the same movie. I had not read the book or seen the original, and i'm glad as i saw this with new eyes and loved it. A great night in with the kleenex!
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misswells12 April 2003
I'm still not sure if I liked it or not. It was a good story. I'm still kind of confused about why they fell in love. I don't think that the characters were set up well enough, and that made it confusing in the beginning, and I spent a lot of time second-guessing the story.

But I want to watch it again. It was interesting, and the ending was GOOD, just, not conventional. I recommend it.
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The novel has no plot and the film has no beauty
pist_again17 September 2002
It's interesting that a novel with no plot has become the basis for two films. While The Heiress was a good, if not entirely accurate, adaptation, Washington Square is a heavy-handed and poorly acted, except for the part of Dr Sloper, film that could have been so much better.

The director's attempts at making 'beautiful' scenes were so obvious that I actually cringed. It has none of the understated and simple beauty that a movie with no plot can have, such as Onegin. I agree with other comments about Leigh's portrayal of Catherine as an idiot, instead of naive and shy; she made me despise her not feel for her.

Catherine's transition from childlike trusting to adult cynicism, the whole point of the story, was internalised, just as it was in the novel. But we don't have the benefit of a narrative voice to tell us that in a film! I think someone skipped adaptation class at filmschool.

I appreciate the director's attempts to make a moving and beautiful film out of a difficult text but it just didn't work.
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Openly emotional/no buffers
Abby-927 July 2002
I rented WS in order to compare Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance in this with her performance in Kansas City. Both are period pieces, and in both i sensed her willingness to submerge a modern self into the demands of the historic period. This is frightening to behold--Albert Finney, her widowed father, is rock-hard, with glimpses of natural paternal sentiment that only make his determined hardness the more monstrous. So, his daughter Katherine is his victim--a victim of culture, a victim of circumstance--a victim of miscommunications, a victim of her lover, of her aunt? It's all a little hard to bear, except that, as the motif of endurance emerges, the formation of a protective shell over the passions of the young is, finally, a relief.

I don't know if there is enough popcorn and chocolate/caramel/you-name-it to make sitting through this story actually enjoyable. Beautifully dressed and accompanied by exquisite score, it's a tragedy with a conclusion of unillumined defeat. Although Katherine, Leigh's role, keeps for herself, privately, the apparent pleasure of the memory of passion. Is this James's modern leaning? Anyway, I rated it high, because as a window into history it's at least fascinating.
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