Arguably Merchant Ivory's best costumer, if only for a certain expertise with which Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has transformed Henry James' dense, allusive late novel into an easily manageable story. A crucial problem is Thurman, resplendently decorous but otherwise inadequate as the financially constrained Charlotte, still enamoured of fickle, pragmatic Italian aristo (Northam) who marries her best friend Maggie (Beckinsale), daughter of philanthropic, art-collecting American billionaire Adam Verver (Nolte) - whom Charlotte, desperate yet not quite resigned to her fate, weds. Inevitably, amid all the deception, love - sexual and familial - wreaks havoc, and the seemingly innocent New Worlders show the scheming Old Worlders a thing or two in matters of strategy. Mercifully, James' incisive ironies and insights just about survive the emphasis on discretion and visual opulence, but there's no denying the stolid clumsiness of direction and script (the metaphor of the beautiful but flawed objet d'art is hammered home relentlessly), nor the overall lack of passion.
Cast and crew
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala