Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Portrait of a Lady

Movie Name: The Portrait of a Lady
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Mary Louise Parker, Martin Donovan, Shelley Winters, Richard E. Grant, Shelley Duvall, Christian Bale, Viggo Mortensen, Valentina Cervi, John Gielgud
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Following the critical and commercial success of "The Piano", director Jane Campion directed an adaptation of Henry James' novel, "The Portrait of a Lady" with a starry cast. The film follows the story of Isabel Archer, a beautiful young American woman, in late 19th century, who inherits a large fortune from her old uncle. Isabel longs for freedom and to experience everything in life, which makes her turn down an offer from the enamored Caspar Goodwood. While traveling in Italy, she meets another expatriate, a woman by the name of Madame Merle. A friendship blooms between these two women, and the older woman introduces Isabel to the seductive Gilbert Osmond. His charisma draws Isabel in, but after getting married, Isabel comes to realize that his real behavior and demeanor are quite different. Gilbert also has a daughter presumably from his first marriage, but to Isabel's surprise and shock, the young woman is actually Osmond's and Merle's from a relationship they both had. When Isabel's cousin becomes gravely ill, that becomes her chance to escape an infernal situation.
Jane Campion is one of the most interesting directors currently working. She has successfully crafted a universe of her own, dominated by female figures, who are carving their own path in an attempt to become their own person (such was the case of the fantastic "Sweetie", "An Angel at my Table" and also "The Piano"). These female characters are strong willed, and have their own perspective in the world, which in the times these stories take place, are usually considered insane and sometimes outcasts. In "The Portrait of a Lady" there are the usual Jane Campion's themes in parallel with Henry James' themes - dichotomy between the new world (represented by the American characters) and the old world (the traditional one represented by the European counterparts). "The Portrait of a Lady" is successful in building the web of relationships between these characters and allows for the main character to be flushed out as a young woman seeking her independence. The supporting characters are thinly depicted, but the actors manage to create lasting impressions, particularly Barbara Hershey and Martin Donovan. The film also features a stunning cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh, and a beautiful score from Wojcieh Kilar. An underrated film from a great director.