Washington Square (1997)
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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.
Matching her every step of the way are Finney's and Smith's sensational renderings of the rich fat bourgeois and the ambiguous spinster. Albert Finney plays a selfish cruel man ,whose wife died when his daughter was born,and he never forgave the girl this death.So he 's always putting her down,humiliating her fiercely.Maggie Smith -who has already played old maid parts:see "the prime of miss Jean Brodie"(1969),"the honey pot" (1967)"A room with a view"(1986)-is equally successful as the heroine's aunt:we never know whether she helps or thwarts her niece's plans.She probably tries to recreate what she misses during her whole life,but isn't she trying to make her niece what she is as well?Whatever you think of remakes,when you deal with such a efficient threesome,you forget all your bias.
Henry James talks about woman's condition during the last century.Money is the center of the heroine's drama;she will never be sure to be loved for herself,that's why her love is doomed from the very beginning.At the time,marriage was the woman's only future,ugly women became either spinsters or nuns.Catherine's dilemma is that,unlike the other socialites for whom marriage is the way to become part of the posh elite,love is second to none for her.Ben Chaplin is rather acceptable,but his character remains one-dimensional.It was probably hard to equal Montgomery Clift.
In a nutshell,a movie who shuns fad;hence a very commendable work.Agnieska Holland -who had already directed a remarkable "Europa Europa"- is a director who promises great things.
Anyway, the movie completely betrays the spirit of this work of the great American writer. In the novel, the heroine Catherine is shy, not very attractive and somewhat clumsy, but nonetheless she is a sound, intelligent young woman, and she's not as naive as it may seem. Her attachment for her father is dignified and respectful, with no morbid sides in it. Along three quarters of the movie, Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) just seems to be mentally retarded, poor thing. In the last quarter, she suddenly (and incredibly) becomes intelligent, aware of her dignity as a woman, and all that.
The director Agnieszka Holland has added two vulgar scenes to the story. The first, when the nervous child Catherine has, well, troubles with her vesica. The second scene, when we see on the background a sort of open-air brothel, with prostitutes taking their customers behind tents, and so on. Nothing could be more contrary to the spirit and artistic ideals of Henry James. It is notorious that the writer was extremely decent and demure even for the standards of the Victorian age. I defy anyone to find any coarseness anywhere in the thousands of pages of James' huge literary production. I really was particularly annoyed by these two scenes.
Yes, I know that a director needs reasonable freedom in the screen adaptation of a novel. But if a director utterly ignores or misunderstands the art of an author (here Henry James), I don't see the point of using his work to make a bad movie.
The acting is adequate to the movie: poor and flat, in spite of the talent of Albert Finney and Maggie Smith. "Washington Square" is definitely a non-recommendable film.
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.
Albert Finney and Maggie Smith did their best, but the direction gets the Golden Toilet award. Oh, look; it's sunny - such felicity abounds! Aw, gee, it's raining, let's all fall down in the street to the sounds of swelling symphonic shmaltz. Peuw.
And I am normally a such a forgiving costume drama fiend. Alas.