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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)
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Popularity
4,722 ( 148)
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

The cast includes four Oscar winners: Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale, Sir John Gielgud, and Shelley Winters; and three Oscar nominees: John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, and Viggo Mortensen. 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

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

Referenced in In a Savage Land: Cast & Crew Interviews (2001) 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

Misses the mark, but shouldn't be entirely dismissed
14 September 1999 | by SKG-2See all my reviews

When I read DAISY MILLER in high school and was completely unengaged, that set me off the wrong foot with Henry James. I also dislike his over-attentiveness to detail, and I must confess a prejudice against any writer who says in 10 pages what they could just have easily said in 2. Yet THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY, once you get into it, turns out to be quite a powerful novel, and given how much I loved THE PIANO, I was really looking forward to what Jane Campion could bring to it. Rarely have I seen a movie version, though, which is so far off the mark but still has worthy parts to it.

Let's start with the mistakes. Campion claimed she was re-imagining the story of Isabel Archer, an American woman of character but not of means, who eventually marries unhappily, instead of just giving a straight filmed version. That's all well and good, but what she and writer Laura Jones do is all but gut the motivations behind the story; we don't see Archer's vitality early on, so we have nowhere to go when she falls, and we don't see what draws people to her. And when Madame Merle and Osmond appear, they are so obviously snakes in the grass that we think Archer is a fool for trusting them, instead of feeling empathy for her. It doesn't help that Malkovich is so obviously bored here he does nothing to exude any charm. Hershey comes off better, but what's done with her character is a little strange as well.

Nevertheless, this movie can't be easily dismissed. First of all, Campion's gift for imagery still comes through; she visually expresses the passions lying hidden in the novel, which few directors do when adapting period pieces. Also, Kidman grows more confident as the movie wears on, so we do get a sense of Isabel. But as someone already commented, the most worthy element here is Martin Donovan as Ralph, Isabel's sickly cousin in love with her, and whose advice sets the whole story in motion. He doesn't play for sentiment, but earns it instead. The ending also keeps its power. Still, this is quite a missed opportunity for Campion.


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