The Portrait of a Lady
Time Out saysHenry James' masterpiece has long been deemed impossible to translate successfully into film; Jane Campion and screenwriter Laura Jones have, however, produced an adaptation as cinematically intelligent as it is faithful to the original. Beginning, adventurously but wisely, with Isabel Archer (Kidman) rejecting Lord Warburton's proposal of marriage, the film charts the changes in its young American heroine's fortunes when, after inheriting a fortune put her way by ailing English cousin Ralph Touchett (Donovan), she travels to Italy, where she's introduced by her mentor Madame Merle (Hershey) to widowed aesthete Gilbert Osmond (Malkovich). Though a friend advises her to wed a long-time admirer who's followed her from America, and Ralph would prefer her to remain true to her free-spirited ideals, Isabel is tempted by Osmond's courtship. Besides the uniformly fine performances, what makes the film so rewarding - and challenging - is its refusal to soften or sentimentalise James' study of New World innocence unprotected against Old World experience. With Stuart Dryburgh's stunning 'Scope camerawork, and a number of audaciously imaginative sequences (notably Isabel's erotic fantasy, and a Dali-esque, b/w 'silent' short to evoke her Grand Tour), this is as far from heritage flummery as you can get.