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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, 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

Sigourney Weaver turned down the role of Madame Merle after Susan Sarandon dropped out. 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

Gilbert Osmond: You don't lose your temper, you find it.
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

Why?
9 August 2001 | by KentRandellSee all my reviews

How can Henry James' novella "Turn Of The Screw" swallow me in whole while I find his other work wordy and arrogant? And how can the same director that has made the two most boring movies I have ever seen, "Two Friends" and this one, also be the same person behind "Sweetie" and "Holy Smoke" - the two finest examples of a movie drawing real characters in real places I have ever seen? This film left me in a state of semi-paralysis.

Being a fan of slow-paced, foreign, and period piece movies, I was pretty surprised at how much this movie bored me. I'm writing this review to try to sort out my feelings of bewilderment.

I think one problem is the use of John Malkovich. We've seen him soar to great heights in the paradoxical "Being John Malkovich" and "The Glass Menagerie", but here his monotone is overly droll and predictable, almost as if he is playing off himself in a Saturday Night Live sketch. In fact the most enjoyable part of this movie was the scene where Mr. Malkovich twirls the umbrella in an ambiguously literal attempt to hypnotize Isabel. If only there were more of these elements in the film....

Then there's Nicole Kidman, whose underachieving attempts at acting has managed to ruin films by not one but two of the greats: Ms. Campion and Stanley Kubrick. Her delivery was similar to Gwyneth Paltrow's in "Mr. Ripley" -- obviously lost. She's just another pretty face thrown into a role of substance after receiving excessive amounts of hype. Watching them act gives me the same feeling I get watching the members of Milli Vanilli try to sing. In their element, they can be undeniably sexy or cute, but in deeper roles the viewer is left completely clueless to their characters' motives. Is Isabel supposed to be docile, alluring, witty, in-control, charismatic, or not-in-control? We can't tell.

In this mess, Barbara Hershey and Martin Donovan as the sickly cousin were both very good. But alongside the weak link Kidman there was little they could do. And Campion made some extremely unusual stylistic sidetracks, the very sidetracks that work in the Holy Smoke India scenes. But in a period piece the fading dream suitors, inexplicable intro, and Chaplin filters seemed inappropriate, although one has to admire her for trying. Even when I don't agree with her methods I respect her sense of adventure (but let's face it, I'll love her forever because of Sweetie). With a little more humility from Campion, a different Isabel, and a more invigorated Malkovich this film might have worked.

For a good treatment of James, try to scare up a copy of the 1961 film The Innocents.


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