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The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

PG-13 | | Drama, Romance | 17 January 1997 (USA)
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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.

Director:

Jane Campion

Writers:

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

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Nicole Kidman ... Isabel Archer
John Malkovich ... Gilbert Osmond
Barbara Hershey ... Madame Serena Merle
Mary-Louise Parker ... Henrietta Stackpole
Martin Donovan ... Ralph Touchett
Shelley Winters ... Mrs. Touchett
Richard E. Grant ... Lord Warburton
Shelley Duvall ... Countess Gemini
Christian Bale ... Edward Rosier
Viggo Mortensen ... Caspar Goodwood
Valentina Cervi ... Pansy Osmond
John Gielgud ... Mr. Touchett
Roger Ashton-Griffiths ... Bob Bantling
Catherine Zago Catherine Zago ... Mother Superior
Alessandra Vanzi Alessandra Vanzi ... Nun #2
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Storyline

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'Donnell@worldnet.att.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK | USA

Language:

English | Italian

Release Date:

17 January 1997 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Retrato de una dama See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$134,805, 29 December 1996

Gross USA:

$3,692,836
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Before being cast as Ralph, Martin Donovan initially met with Jane Campion about playing Casper. See more »

Goofs

(at around 47 mins) A horse carriage is passing through the shot from right to left. The crew with dolly-cam and equipment is clearly visible. See more »

Quotes

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

Jane Campion thanks her family, Colin, Alice and Richard, for their generous support, suggestions and encouragement during the making of this film. See more »

Connections

Featured in The 69th Annual Academy Awards (1997) See more »

Soundtracks

Six Cavatines Op 39 ('Par che di giubilo')
Composed by Mauro Giuliani
Performed by Maurizia Barazzoni, soprano
Courtesy of Arion Disques S.A., France
By Arrangement with Allegro Corporation
See more »

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User Reviews

Kidman sizzles in this haunting adaptation of a James classic!
22 March 2002 | by michellehayworthSee all my reviews

Jane Campion has adapted Henry James' classic 1881 novel "The Portrait of a Lady" in off-kilter style. The result is a pleasing if not entirely successful loosening up of the traditional costume drama. Her modern viewpoints spring naturally from the novel's themes, but sometimes the tricks she plays, though witty, are not essential. She gets beneath the skin of Isabel Archer's misguided quest for an intelligent life--literally, for the movie contains those Campionesque below-the-surface touches in which objects seem to sigh, the earth to move, the soul to thud in the lungs--in a way that points up that no living moment is mundane. The dialogue, the sense of time and place as the cultures of the Old and New Worlds collide in 19th-century Europe, the heroic charm of Isabel, the manipulative allure of Madame Merle who leads her astray: All these are handled with imagination and ease, but not the storyline or the men who people its path.

Nicole Kidman is a splendid Isabel, curving forth to shape her own destiny with an appealing mix of naivete and regality, and Barbara Hershey's bruised beauty imbues with rue her Merle's trickery. But the male roles are miscast. John Malkovich is too obvious a choice for the evil lounge lizard Gilbert Osmond, so his portrayal therefore lacks fascination. Richard E. Grant as Lord Warburton is without the dignity that would have made the proposal of marriage to Archer less easy to reject. Viggo Mortensen's dime-novel good looks oversimplify the threatening ardor of the insistent Caspar Goodwood. Martin Donovan, despite his many well-timed coughs, seems too vigorous as the consumptive Ralph Touchett. In consequence, following Isabel's feelings toward each and every lover becomes a very bumpy ride, while the overview that Campion espouses is also uncertain in judgment and tone. The costumes (wondrously flattering to Kidman's figure--or maybe it's vice versa) and production design by Janet Patterson have a cruel beauty. Mary-Louise Parker is amusing as the stridently "modern" Henrietta Stackpole, and Sir John Gielgud amazingly original in a cameo deathbed scene.


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