6.3/10
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67 user 61 critic

The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

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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, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$3,692,836, 24 February 1997
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

Features Barbara Hershey's only Oscar nominated performance. 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

Ralph Touchett: I love you but without hope.
See more »

Crazy Credits

In loving memory of J.E.C. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Killing Floor (2007) See more »

Soundtracks

Impromptu in G Flat Major, Op 90 No. 3, D899
(1828)
Composed by Franz Schubert
Adapted for screen by Brian Lock
Performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (as Jean Yves Thibaudet)
Courtesy of Decca Records Company Ltd.
See more »

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User Reviews

Incomplete Portrait
31 May 2000 | by tedgSee all my reviews

I vacillate between preferring films that do a simple thing extremely well (Muppet Movie) or those that shoot high and fail. This film is the latter.

Campion has allied her aspirations with `women's' perspectives; honorable and rich enough. And she selects material ripe with possibilities. Clearly she has a vision, presumably extracted from the author's, but she fails to get on top of it.

Part of the problem is the simplification of the book for the screenplay. We just don't get enough foundation for the travesty of person we witness. A large part of the problem is Ms Kidman. She simply doesn't have the depth to pull this off, though she wears the clothes well. We never really see her supposed extraordinary spirit, and never really see how she's trapped by that very same spirit. Malkovich doesn't help. Here, he's too one-dimensionally a schemer.

Campion knows better than to throw in so many irrelevant film-school angles as a substitute for narrative reflection. This film is worth seeing as a study in how a spirited film maker is seduced by that very spirit into the superficialities of style, so is trapped. The ambiguous ending is, I think, Campion's limbo. Let's hope she escapes for her sake as well as ours. We need that spirit.


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