In this adaptation of the Henry James novel set in 19th-century New York City, a wealthy spinster with an overbearing father is pursued by a handsome fortune hunter who may be only after her... Read allIn this adaptation of the Henry James novel set in 19th-century New York City, a wealthy spinster with an overbearing father is pursued by a handsome fortune hunter who may be only after her money.In this adaptation of the Henry James novel set in 19th-century New York City, a wealthy spinster with an overbearing father is pursued by a handsome fortune hunter who may be only after her money.
Jennifer Jason Leigh Is Miraculous
This is a masterpiece of film-making, both because of the talented Polish director Agnieszka Holland, and the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh. This is the best performance by Leigh which I have seen, and I always think she is inspired, but here she truly transcends herself. It is simply one of the greatest cinematic performances of the 1990s. Rarely has an actress so intimately portrayed the most subtle nuances of mood so well. Such an intimate film could only have been directed by a woman, and I don't believe Leigh could have done this for a male director, not even her chum, the late Robert Altman. The performance by Leigh is really as delicate as gossamer, and she spins a transparent silky web of tormented love with such intensity she outdoes even Olivia de Havilland, who played the role before her in 'The Heiress' long ago, and to do that is a miracle! The only way to describe Leigh's performance is to say that she has a 'naked face'. She seems determined to hide nothing. Pathological shyness has rarely been shown so clearly. Throughout the film, Leigh does a progressive striptease of the soul, and she ends up with nothing on but her hard-earned sense of self worth, which cloaks her admirably. Ben Chaplin is a perfect choice for the young suitor, and he mixes goodness and elegance with the desperate grasping nature of the character in an ideal cocktail that is deadly while it is sweet. And Albert Finney surpasses himself as the father so eaten up with bitterness at his wife's death in childbirth that he can never forgive his pathetic daughter for 'killing her', and actively hates and persecutes her for her entire lifetime. Henry James wrote the novel, and he knew a thing or two about people. I once knew someone who had actually met Henry James, namely Dorothy Pound, and I asked her what he was like. (Well you would, wouldn't you?) She said she never had any real conversation with him because he spent all his time talking to Ezra, and they would meet from time to time strolling in Hyde Park, when James always had an attractive young woman on his arm, he would say something pleasant to the Pounds, and then he would be off. I said but what was he LIKE? She said: 'He wore a beautiful red waistcoat.' So there you go. And so does Albert Finney, as a crusty old port drinker with an American accent in this harrowing and tragic tale of intensity in the Square. By the way, the film was shot in Baltimore, and achieves a high degree of authenticity with well-preserved old houses, both inside and out. As time passes in the story, the style of 19th century costumes changes appropriately. Everything is done with finesse. The film commences with the most stunning continuous moving shot, starting in the square, then going up to the front door of the house, 21 Washington Square, then entering the house, moving through it, going up the stairs, and entering the bedroom while a newborn baby cries O.S. and the mother lies dead on her bed with her eyes open wide. Finney lies down beside her and says: 'Now you will be together in heaven with our son.' What a way to open a film! And the final scene of the film, which I must not describe, is equally impressive in a completely different way, with the last shot featuring an incredible lighting effect. Technically, the film is perfect. Holland did not have Wajda as her mentor for nothing, and she is a true artist. I believe this is the finest of all the many excellent films based on Henry James stories, and most of them are so good, that is high praise indeed.
- Aug 17, 2009
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