Leave it to New Zealand director Jane Campion (The Piano
, Angel at My Table
) to begin an adaptation of Henry James's great novel (set in the late 1800s) with a group of late-20th-century women from Down Under talking about the importance of a kiss. Like any good film adaptation (and it's a very good one, indeed), this exquisitely framed and mounted Portrait of a Lady
is at least as much Campion as it is James. The story of strong-willed, independent-minded Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman, whose skin here is photographed like delicate porcelain) is a tricky one to dramatise, since it's largely about good intentions going awry, roads not taken, misguided decisions made for good reasons. Headstrong American orphan Isabel rejects the proposal of a decent, sensible English suitor, Lord Warburton (Richard E. Grant), because she wants to find her own destiny and identity first. Instead, she is seduced by Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), an effete collector of art (and women) whom one character describes as a "sterile dilettante". How Isabel's life, and the lives of those who love her, are affected by this fateful (but irreversible?) decision is what the bulk of the film is about. Portrait of a Lady
is lovely, heartbreaking, and at times terrifying--as only coming face-to-face with the consequences of one's own life-changing decisions can be. --Jim Emerson
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2.4 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), French ( Dolby Digital 5.1 ), Italian ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), Spanish ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), Dutch ( Subtitles ), English ( Subtitles ), French ( Subtitles ), Italian ( Subtitles ), Portuguese ( Subtitles ), Spanish ( Subtitles ), ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN (1.85:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Documentary, Interactive Menu, Production Notes, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: Jane Campion directed this expressive adaptation of the classic novel by Henry James. Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman) is a young American woman who, after the death of her parents, has been sent to England to visit relatives. While her family's tragedy has left her penniless, Isabel's beauty has earned her the attentions of a number of eligible men. When Isabel turns down a proposal of marriage from the wealthy Lord Warburton (Richard E. Grant) because she does not love him, her cousin Ralph (Martin Donovan), who is also smitten with her, arranges for his father to leave her a fortune before succumbing to tuberculosis so that she may live as an independent woman. Isabel takes a tour of Europe, where she meets Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey), a jaded sophisticate and matchmaker who introduces her to Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), a widowed American artist living abroad. Isabel falls in love with Gilbert and they marry, but his sloth and opportunism soon begin to wear on her, and three years later she is desperate to get out of their relationship. The Portrait of a Lady also stars John Gielgud, Mary-Louise Parker, Christian Bale, and Shelley Winters.
SCREENED/AWARDED AT: Golden Globes, Oscar Academy Awards, ...Portrait Of A Lady