It is interesting to watch this series, one of the first British dramatizations of a classic novel, to see how far and how fast the method of filmmaking developed in subsequent years. In comparison with the great work the BBC was doing 10 or even 5 years later, "Portrait of a Lady" definitely seems like it comes out of the stone age of TV drama. There is something very stiff and stilted about this dramatization, though I suspect it is reasonably faithful to the book. First of all, the length is very gruelling; it's been some years since I watched it, but I seem to recall it being about 4 or 5 hours long. In a piece of such length, one suddenly notices the lack of artistry in the film work - most of the scenes are shot with a stationary camera, sort of middle distance, with very little in the way of closeups or angle changes. It is, for all the world, just like watching a stage play on TV, and I suspect that at this early stage, that is precisely how British television approached classic literature. Most of the story takes place indoors, which is rather a relief, as the occasional exterior scene tossed in looks embarrassingly fake.
The acting is good, and it's delightful to see Edward Fox in this series, so young and handsome, but the pacing is glacial. By the time I'd gotten about two-thirds of the way through this series, I realized that the characters were just going to talk and talk, and were never going to DO anything at all. Friends of mine who have read a lot of Henry James assure me that that is exactly what his novels are like, so perhaps the series gets points for fidelity to its origin, but it just doesn't make for very interesting TV.
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