Washington Square (1997) Poster

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Jennifer Jason Leigh Is Miraculous
robert-temple-117 August 2009
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.
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KoolJool8174 February 2004
It is unfair to compare the 1997 film "Washington Square" to the 1949 film "The Heiress." "Washington Square" is a faithful adaptation of Henry James' eponymous classic novel; "The Heiress" is based on the stage adaptation of the James novel by Augustus and Ruth Goetz.

Hence, the two most dramatic scenes in "The Heiress" do not appear in "Washington Square" -- Morris Townsend's cruel jilting of Catherine right before their planned elopement, and Catherine's revenge in the final scene, where Morris is left pounding on the bolted door.

There were many fine performances in "Washington Square," most notably Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her many expressions of hurt, pain, and anguish are heart-breaking to watch. Ben Chaplin's outstanding portrayal of "the fortune hunter" is surprisingly sympathetic. Maggie Smith's Aunt Lavinia is seen as meddling and trouble-making. The soundtrack is beautiful, and the set designs and costumes provide an accurate portrayal of 19th century New York.
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This kind of movie becomes rare nowadays!
dbdumonteil26 February 2002
It takes a lot of nerve to take on a De Havilland's part ,and Jennifer Jason Leigh has succeeded though:she has never taken the easy road ,as "last exit to Brooklyn"(1989)testifies.She is one of these rare contemporary actors (like Sean Penn,Daniel Day-Lewis,Emma Thompson)who shuns narcissistic parts,who does not think twice about making herself look ugly(like De Havilland).Her portrayal of a gauche,clumsy but endearing heiress(!)despised by her father is brilliant.

Matching her every step of the way are Finney's and Smith's sensational renderings of the rich fat bourgeois and the ambiguous spinster. Albert Finney plays a selfish cruel man ,whose wife died when his daughter was born,and he never forgave the girl this death.So he 's always putting her down,humiliating her fiercely.Maggie Smith -who has already played old maid parts:see "the prime of miss Jean Brodie"(1969),"the honey pot" (1967)"A room with a view"(1986)-is equally successful as the heroine's aunt:we never know whether she helps or thwarts her niece's plans.She probably tries to recreate what she misses during her whole life,but isn't she trying to make her niece what she is as well?Whatever you think of remakes,when you deal with such a efficient threesome,you forget all your bias.

Henry James talks about woman's condition during the last century.Money is the center of the heroine's drama;she will never be sure to be loved for herself,that's why her love is doomed from the very beginning.At the time,marriage was the woman's only future,ugly women became either spinsters or nuns.Catherine's dilemma is that,unlike the other socialites for whom marriage is the way to become part of the posh elite,love is second to none for her.Ben Chaplin is rather acceptable,but his character remains one-dimensional.It was probably hard to equal Montgomery Clift.

In a nutshell,a movie who shuns fad;hence a very commendable work.Agnieska Holland -who had already directed a remarkable "Europa Europa"- is a director who promises great things.
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Movie Twists James' intent
bdixon-225 November 1998
The film version of Henry James' novel twists the story James tried to convey. The director of the film took too many liberties with the film by adding scenes and distorting scenes as to make the drama point almost all fingers at the poor Doctor. I believe that the director did not make as much of an emphasis on the money as James originally did, and I believe that the director did not convey the faults within the love affair in order to make the drama more romantic. I think that a more strict adherence to James would have made the film just as romantic, but would have left the audience with the message that the lovers had just as many faults as the good Doctor.
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If you like this movie, then you should try....
chunkymonkey2422 December 2004
If you liked this movie, then you should try William Wyler's "The Heiress" (1949) featuring GWTW's Melanie, Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. Both of these movies contain moving performances from all of the lead actors. Catherine Sloper is skillfully portrayed as an unworldly, naive, young woman who falls for financially-unmatched, well-cultured, dashing Morris Townsend. The overprotective yet unloving Dr. Austin Sloper, Catherine's father, will make your blood boil! Both movies have the making for some intense soap opera-like drama - suspenseful in every regard, keeps you reaching for that bowl of popcorn or that box of Kleenex. To truly understand the plight of the young lovers and especially to get a sense of the tension behind the relationship between daughter and father, one must view "The Heiress" and "Washington Square" for the two films are lovely by themselves, but they certainly complement each other. You'll see what I mean after watching both ;) Enjoy!
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Openly emotional/no buffers
Abby-927 July 2002
I rented WS in order to compare Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance in this with her performance in Kansas City. Both are period pieces, and in both i sensed her willingness to submerge a modern self into the demands of the historic period. This is frightening to behold--Albert Finney is rock-hard, with glimpses of natural paternal sentiment that only make his determined hardness the more monstrous. So, his daughter is his victim--a victim of culture, a victim of circumstance--a victim of miscommunications, a victim of her lover, of her aunt? It's all a little hard to bear, except that, as the motif of endurance emerges, the formation of a protective shell over the passions of the young is, finally, a relief. I don't know if there is enough popcorn and chocolate/caramel/you-name-it to make sitting through this story actually enjoyable. Beautifully dressed and accompanied by exquisite score, it's a tragedy with a conclusion of unillumined defeat. Although Katherine, Leigh's role, keeps for herself, privately, the apparent pleasure of the memory of passion. Is this James's modern leaning? Anyway, I rated it high, because as a window into history it's at least fascinating.
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Flat movie which betrays the spirit of James' novel
pzanardo30 October 2000
"Washington Square" is a flat, shabby adaptation of the short novel by Henry James. Indeed, the novel is very good, but far from the level of James' masterpieces. Moreover its simple, eventless story seems unsuited to make it into a film (although William Wyler, with his "The Heiress", gave in 1949 a beautiful version of the novel).

Anyway, the movie completely betrays the spirit of this work of the great American writer. In the novel, the heroine Catherine is shy, not very attractive and somewhat clumsy, but nonetheless she is a sound, intelligent young woman, and she's not as naive as it may seem. Her attachment for her father is dignified and respectful, with no morbid sides in it. Along three quarters of the movie, Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) just seems to be mentally retarded, poor thing. In the last quarter, she suddenly (and incredibly) becomes intelligent, aware of her dignity as a woman, and all that.

The director Agnieszka Holland has added two vulgar scenes to the story. The first, when the nervous child Catherine has, well, troubles with her vesica. The second scene, when we see on the background a sort of open-air brothel, with prostitutes taking their customers behind tents, and so on. Nothing could be more contrary to the spirit and artistic ideals of Henry James. It is notorious that the writer was extremely decent and demure even for the standards of the Victorian age. I defy anyone to find any coarseness anywhere in the thousands of pages of James' huge literary production. I really was particularly annoyed by these two scenes.

Yes, I know that a director needs reasonable freedom in the screen adaptation of a novel. But if a director utterly ignores or misunderstands the art of an author (here Henry James), I don't see the point of using his work to make a bad movie.

The acting is adequate to the movie: poor and flat, in spite of the talent of Albert Finney and Maggie Smith. "Washington Square" is definitely a non-recommendable film.
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Over-long, over-acted, and over-directed
Lanwench4 February 2001
This was such a ham-handed film that only the invisible force field that surrounds my couch prevented me from getting up and turning the television off. Much of Leigh's performance seemed to consist of channelling Ally Sheedy's quirky "Breakfast Club" shtick. Jeez, Catherine isn't supposed to be the village idiot; she's just naive and sheltered. The scenes involving pants-wetting and prostitution were unfaithful to James' spirit, let alone the actual text, and the music was god-awful and anachronistic, especially the irritating piano duet.

Albert Finney and Maggie Smith did their best, but the direction gets the Golden Toilet award. Oh, look; it's sunny - such felicity abounds! Aw, gee, it's raining, let's all fall down in the street to the sounds of swelling symphonic shmaltz. Peuw.

And I am normally a such a forgiving costume drama fiend. Alas.
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Wonderfully tragic film of romance and liberty.
Mr12ED24 October 1999
Usually I adore movies with no glitches - easy romance that merely comes to fruition. However, this film caught my eye in the video store and I impulsively rented it - I will forever be grateful to my instinct. For this film was amazing - a young woman who is unattractive physically, but beautiful inside. She yearns for the true, unconditional love that her father has never provided it to her. This story documents with grace and intense emotion her journey of discovery - for who really loves her and who she really is. The music is achingly poignant and supports a story that evokes such incredible feelings in its viewers. Washington Square isn't a film that makes you cry, it's one that makes you weep.
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Nice try, but.....
howardeisman24 October 2010
I first saw "The Heiress" when it first came out. I was about 12, but old enough to be fascinated by the characters and the basic conflict. Wow! I read the James' book "Washington Square" about 30 years later. I was disappointed. It was a rambling story told by a busybody with none of the dramatic high points of The Heiress; it is Henry James" first novel and has none of the intriguing nuances of his later novels.

This film stays closer to the novel than "The Heiress". Thus, it is much less of a drama. The attempt to do the book is commendable, but it is not necessarily the route to an entertaining film. Here, the characterizations are obscurely unmotivated (Finney), over-the-top (Smith), uneven and sometimes weird (Leigh), and charmless and off-putting (Chapin). The musical score is intrusive. All of this contrasts badly with "The Heiress", in which the characters had far more depth, authenticity, and appeal(certainly Morris and even the minor characters).

This longer version attempts a better exposition of the characters' psychology. Good ambition but it fails. Take Dr. Sloper. A hard working, self-made man who despises Morris Townsend mainly because he is a self-centered loafer. It is not snobbery which motivates him, Morris is a gentleman, but his belief in merit and good works. He does love his daughter but she disappoints him with her shyness and inability to master much of life. He pushes her to manage better, but he is constantly frustrated. For her to marry Morris would be to shatter all he believes about how people should live. A bad guy? A good guy? All of this comes out in Ralph Richardson"s performance in "The Heiress.' Finney just seems like an nasty oaf in comparison.
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It does not work for me.
glencominc27 August 2005
I do not know who is to blame, Miss Leigh or her director, but her performance as Catherine is almost impossible to watch. Ben Chaplin on the other hand does a superior job - against all odds as far as I am concerned. His character is entirely too charming and appealing. but certainly not shown as greedy enough, to put up with Leigh's character's silliness. Chaplin appears bemused by what cannot possibly be understood as Leigh's shyness and lack of grace, but rather her orthopedic unsteadiness. There has to be some element of believability to his interest, but as played it is incomprehensible. The performances do not jibe. Maggie Smith and Albert Finney are, of course, wonderful despite any effort to derail them. The supporting cast is also a pleasure to watch. What a pity, too, the leads don't work together because the production is lovely to look at.
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'The Heiress' was superior to this remake
style-231 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This adaptation, like 1949's *The Heiress*, is based on the Henry James novel. *The Heiress*, starring Olivia de Havilland, remains as a well-respected piece of work, though less true to James' original story than this new remake, which retains James' original title. It is the story of a awkward, yet loving daughter (Leigh), devoted to her father (Finney) after her mother dies during childbirth. The arrogant father holds his daughter in no esteem whatsoever, and considers her, as well as all women, simpleminded. When a young man (Chaplin) of good family and little fortune comes courting, the Father is naturally suspicious, but feeling so sure that his daughter could hold no interest for any man, is convinced that the young man is a fortune hunter and forbids her to see him. Leigh is a controversial actress – most either love her or hate her – and she always has a particular edginess and tenseness to her style, like she's acting through gritted teeth. She's not bad in this, and she handles her role relatively deftly – it's just an awkward role for any actress, making the audience want to grab the character by her shoulders and shake her until she comes to her senses. While the character garners a lot of sympathy, she's not particularly likable. The very handsome and immensely appealing Ben Chaplin (previously seen in *The Truth About Cats and Dogs*) plays his role with the exact amount of mystery required to keep the audience guessing whether he is after her fortune, or is really in love with her. Maggie Smith is one of the finest actresses alive and raises the level of the movie considerably with her portrayal of the well-meaning aunt. Finney is marvelous, of course, as the father who threatens to disinherit his daughter for her disobedience, but the daughter is willing to risk that for the man she loves. But does her ardent suitor still want her without her fortune? This is only one instance where *Washington Square* differs from *The Heiress*. Another instance is the ability to stick with it. It is a handsome movie that is as tedious as a dripping faucet, offering too little story in too long of a movie.
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Insult to a Classic
Audie-31 November 1998
This film is an insult to two of the greatest actors ever to hit the silver screen, Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift, who starred in the original version, The Heiress. Montgomery and Olivia, although they hated each other, had such incredible chemistry together that the film was almost perfect. Re-making The Heiress was almost as much of an insult as re-making something like Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, or On the Waterfront. It was just about as bad as the two re-makes of A Streetcar Named Desire. Leave the classics alone, if it is considered a classic, then it is perfect the way it is. Leave history to itself.
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moving ,a real tear jerker
sean-2762 May 2003
I found this movie by accident while browsing sky channels. I fell in love with it then, managed to watch it several times before i decided to buy. I dont know if it it touches all those who have felt betrayed or if katherine is so believable that the leaking eyes are for her!!I have recommended it to all my friends who enjoy a good weepy.The ending is not sad but gives me a sense of strength and survival,a kind of "good on ya Katherine" having read other reviews it amazes me how differently people experience the same movie. I had not read the book or seen the original, and i'm glad as i saw this with new eyes and loved it. A great night in with the kleenex!
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Major Disappointment, Totally BORING Film
doniejamesqm9 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I love Henry James books and Washington Square was no exception. I was very excited to see a new movie coming out, based on the book of that title. Jennifer Jason Lee is an exceptional actress and Ben Chaplin good enough to play the lead roles. Albert Finney is miscast and doesn't carry the role well. I wanted to shoot Maggie Smith....or rather her silly, insipid role. The real problem and what's lacking in this latest version is a good script, music, and direction.

I fell asleep in the theater watching this long, drawn out and exceptionally boring movie. There are more pauses in the dialog than a Pinter Play. In the book I felt a deep caring for Catherine Sloper and her life. The movie had just the opposite effect. I also disliked the twist where her aunt has a sexual attraction to Morris. Eeeeeeeek. YUK.

Watch it if you can't sleep, it's a definite snoozer. Don't watch it if you're depressed. You'll need Zoloft after this.

Sure, "The Heiress" was exceptional with Olivia Haviland and Montgomery Clift in the title roles. The actor who played her father was on the mark as the uncaring, cold father....still grieving for his dead wife and hating Catherine for it. The movie was not faithful to the book but neither is this one.

This movie was a box office flop. I have no doubts as to why.
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The novel has no plot and the film has no beauty
pist_again17 September 2002
It's interesting that a novel with no plot has become the basis for two films. While The Heiress was a good, if not entirely accurate, adaptation, Washington Square is a heavy-handed and poorly acted, except for the part of Dr Sloper, film that could have been so much better.

The director's attempts at making 'beautiful' scenes were so obvious that I actually cringed. It has none of the understated and simple beauty that a movie with no plot can have, such as Onegin. I agree with other comments about Leigh's portrayal of Catherine as an idiot, instead of naive and shy; she made me despise her not feel for her.

Catherine's transition from childlike trusting to adult cynicism, the whole point of the story, was internalised, just as it was in the novel. But we don't have the benefit of a narrative voice to tell us that in a film! I think someone skipped adaptation class at filmschool.

I appreciate the director's attempts to make a moving and beautiful film out of a difficult text but it just didn't work.
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Great movie
reececup4 October 2005
Holland's Washington Square was a great movie. I thought that the actors portrayed James's descriptions of them very well. The film is much more faithful to the original Novel by Henry James than its predecessor, The Heiress (Dir. by William Wyler), which was heavily based on a stage play of Washington Square. Although there is a feminist slant put on the movie, which is not really seen in the novel, this is a fair interpretation made by the director. It is easy to see that Catherine's defiance of her father's wishes (or demands, if you prefer) could be a precursor to the feminist movement that began later in the century. Both films are a must see, but most importantly, read the novel. For a 19th century book, it's very easy to read!
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Not a very good film compared to the Heiress (1949)
wilm-111 December 2001
This movie has some beautiful sets and Albert Finney does a great job as the ruthless father. The movie fails because Jennifer Jason Leigh is too jumpy as the daughter and is no match whatever for Olivia De Havilland's far more nuanced, mature rendering in The Heiress (1949). The film's feminist-leaning conclusion also goes against the austere conclusion of the novel, Washington Square, whose author, Henry James, savagely parodied feminism in some of his other novels. As a fan of old Hollywood and great literature, I found this movie very disappointing.
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Leigh's latest insult to acting
fubar-228 August 1998
I understand there was some conflict between Leigh and the great Maggie Smith during the filming. Understandable when you put one of the world's greatest actresses of all time (Smith, of course) with one whose performances seem to get worse with each subsequent film.
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Unnecessary alterations to story defuse the original power.
mark.waltz15 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a story that has always bothered me from the first time I saw the original 1949 movie ("The Heiress") many years ago to the recent Broadway revival. It is interesting to note that Judith Ivey who plays the younger sister of Albert Finney here played the older sister in the 2012 production (played by Maggie Smith here). And being a look at polite American society, this can be compared to "Downton Abbey" from the opposite side of the Atlantic, with Dan Stevens playing the young man squiring around Catherine Sloper in that production as well. Those who only know Dame Maggie Smith from "Downton Abbey" and the "Harry Potter" movies will enjoy her here in a change of pace role as a really kind matron who anxiously longs to see her niece (Jennifer Jason Leigh) get together with the poor but charming Morris Townsend (Ben Chapin) even though her doctor brother (Finney) is dead set against their even seeing each other socially.

The real conflict here is the relationship between father and daughter, a complicated and resentful one. Father hates daughter because his beloved wife died giving birth to her, and he was never able to relate to her emotionally. While Catherine has inheritance from her mother's side of the family, her father makes it clear that she will inherit nothing from him if she does not do his bidding, which means not marrying Chapin. While the character of Catherine is supposed to be plain, Leigh doesn't fit the bill. The problem with her performance is that Catherine seems quite hard, while DeHavilland's Catherine was fragile and only plain by the fact that she wore a very severe hairstyle that was not flattering to her face. That made her seem more suppressed, and her inner beauty was more obvious. Leigh also makes her character much more clinging, so ultimately, she is not as likable, closer to the unattractive heroine of the musical "Passion" than to what the original play and movie had her to be.

As Dr. Austin Sloper, Albert Finney is excellent, a combination of social mores, hidden hatred of his daughter, and in conflict with himself between his coldness and his Hippocratic oath. Smith, as always, is the consummate scene stealer, making her Aunt Livinia one you'd love to have over for cocktails and babysit the kids. It makes no sense that Leigh's Catherine would blame her aunt for Morris walking out on her. It is nice, however, to see the great Maggie playing an older character who is filled with strawberry ice cream in her heart instead of ice water in her veins and a wisecrack on her tongue. Even without the witty dialog she has gotten to say on stage and in films throughout her career, Smith delivers each line as if she was spreading butter on corn-Sweet, a bit salty and delicious to the ear.

As for the alterations I mention, there seems no other reason to do this than to feminize the narrative. They took out the "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" lesson of rejection by altering the plot twists towards the end. In the original versions both on stage and on screen, you can tell that Catherine will go on with her life whether being a spinster or not, but something tells me here that Leigh's Catherine will end up like "Great Expectation's" Miss Haversham and be one of the most feared and disliked characters around. It is the twist of the ending which always bothered me, but in this version, I saw no need to change it.
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Beautiful acting, directing, writing, costuming, etc.!
louisep6 November 1998
This film was beautifully acted, directed, written, costumed, staged -- everything about this movie was well crafted. It is a gem: poignant, joyous, gorgeous, sad, tragic. I highly recommend it.
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Stunning costumes, Heartbreaking story
motozulli10 April 2002
I won't tell anything more about the heartbreak, you could find that out easily enough by reading the book or watching the movie. What I want to comment on more are the stunning costumes, and beautiful set of this movie. Without a doubt, this is the most beautifully done victorian-costume movie. Ever. The colors are rich, the shapes and lines graceful, the styles perfectly suited to each character. And that is all within the oft abused boundaries of historical authenticity. 1850-60s New York could not have been better shown. Which brings me to my next point... any denizen or enthusiast of the great city will love the recreation of Washington Square, that lovely patch of green. I haven't even mentioned the story...let it be enough that it haunts me to this day.
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Plain young Victorian heiress falls madly in love with fortune hunter.
pied27 September 1998
It's ironic that this heartbreakingly, beautiful film about a young, Victorian-era spinster is also so passionate. This film moved me tremendously and made me cry. Jennifer-Jason Leigh, who is not one of my favorite actresses, does an absolutely incredible job of creating this character. The nuances in the four leading roles are portrayed with such finesse, that it is impossible to say definitively exactly what their motives are. I actually felt as if I were living in upper-class society in the 1870's so well is that time depicted.

I highly recommend this film!
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Off-putting at first, but gets better
Sean Gallagher2 March 1999
Like THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY in 1996, this seems to be a feminist reworking of a Henry James novel, but it starts off badly. While it's nice that we get to understand why Catherine is mostly ignored by her father (because her mother died while giving birth to her), director Agnieszka Holland, writer Carol Doyle, and Jennifer Jason Leigh make her overly pathetic at first. It's as if they were smugly suggesting, "Of course no one would look at her, because her father beat her down so much." Jennifer Jason Leigh is a better actress, IMHO, then Olivia de Havilland (who played Catherine in William Wyler's adaptation of this novel, THE HEIRESS), but de Havilland(or Wyler, or both) understood we needed to see Catherine appealing and shy, otherwise we'd never believe Catherine when she believes Morris is truly in love with her. By making her pathetic, we don't quite believe it at first.

But gradually, when Leigh lets Catherine blossom and more rounded and developed, it's easy to see the dormant potential in her, and she makes us believe her gradual independence from her father. Albert Finney and Maggie Smith, of course, are old hands at this type of thing (if you'll pardon the expression), and they both do there thing again. Ben Chaplin suffers in comparison to Montgomery Clift, but he does show more deviousness than I would have believed from him. Not as good as THE HEIRESS or the other 1997 Henry James adaptation, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, but still worthy.
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Very Henry James
gradyharp14 September 2010
Henry James' WASHINGTON SQUARE is well served in this solid film whose screenplay was adapted by Carol Doyle and has been directed with secure wisdom of James' style by Polish director Agnieszka Holland )'Europa, Europa', 'Red', 'Blue', 'Copying Beethoven', etc). The musical score is in the capable hands of Jan AP Kaczmarek and the Director of Photography is Jerzy Zielinski, and with all these elements in place, the last ingredient in making this a successful adaptation of a Henry James novel is the cast.

Fortunately the assembled cast matches the above credentials. Albert Finney is superb as the wealthy Dr. Austin Sloper who hoards his money in his mansion on Washington Square and whose overprotective rule of his less than attractive daughter Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) - who is also under the influence of her overbearing Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith, still chewing the scenery as usual but convincing) - has put an impasse to Catherine's infatuation with the handsome but poor Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin): if Catherine should choose to marry Morris she would be cut off as his heiress. James' models of womanhood are played well by Jennifer Garner as the niece that marries and breeds and her mother Aunt Elizabeth (Judith Ivey, currently wowing audiences in a revival of 'The Glass Menagerie'). Distance, imposed by the disapproving Dr. Sloper in escorting Catherine to Europe for a year, doesn't appear to squelch the passion between Catherine and Morris, but Morris finds work which takes him away from the returned Catherine, only to learn upon return that Catherine will not inherit her father's fortune - a glitch that sadly changes the relationship of what had appeared to be a true love romance. In the end the film follows Henry James' view of the world of his time - a palette for social criticism. Made in 1997, this film holds up very well indeed.

Grady Harp
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