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3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 15 July 2004
I must say I totally disagree with the somewhat mediocre reviews below. I consider "Portrait of a Lady" to be one of Jane Campion's best movies. The actors are magnificient.
Nicole Kidman is both beautiful and very moving as the gentle naive heroine who aspires to liberty and escaping her condition as a young woman intended to make a good marriage.
John Malkovich is truly the part of the sinister virtually sadistic husband. But he isn't the best, the most touching of all is Martin Donovan as the subdued cousin, slowly consuming from illness and unrequieted love.
The photography is beautiful, and certain sequences are truly magical: Nicole Kidman's strange daydream of John Malkovich's
burning declaration to her "I absolutely love you", (something between a 1920's silent movie and the Dali dream sequence in Hitchcocks' "Spellbound"),
and the deadly romantic Final sequence that starts with a kiss between Nicole Kidman and Viggo Mortensen and ends in slow motion on a beautiful score by Wojciech Kilar (coppola's Dracula)
If you love Period drama and strong deep emotion, this is a beautiful an compelling Movie.
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on 10 August 2006
From the very first second to the very last i was totally transfixed. The acting in this movie is flawless and brilliant. Nicole does incredibly well as a young naive woman who finds she is uncapable of sticking to the same decision. I found myself rising up as if to defend her in her time of greatest need, when she was being emotionally and physically abused by her husband. As sad as the beginning may be, lots of tears, lots of building emotion and desperation to be loved, the ending made me breath a sigh of relief for Isabelle Archer. She'd found herself trapped and managed to set herself free again.

I HAVE to comment on the documentary included. It gives a closer look at the actors and let me tell you, it looked difficult. In preperation for her abusive scenes you see Nicole crying and frustrated and beating herself up. It compelled me almost as much as the film! If you buy this dvd (you must) then make sure to watch this bonus feature, you will realise that the life of an actor is not all it's cracked up to be.

Over all, a compelling and beautiful piece of drama.
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on 27 December 2003
Henry James was realistic about women at the end of the 19th century, particularly those standing between the US and Great Britain. Isabel is such a woman. She gets into the world without any parents but with a tremendously good uncle and cousin. She is surrounded with men who love her and want to marry her out of love. She refuses them, three of them, to be able to see the world. And she falls in the hands of a social climber, a social parasite and a fortune hunter who covers up his liaison with the woman who introduced her to him, and whose daughter is the out-of-wedlock child of this very woman. She is of course deeply unhappy, alone, brutalized too, and yet she tries to save the daughter from her fate. She fails because the daughter is totally under the tyrannical authority of her father, an authority that is tyrannical only because the daughter accepts it and submits to it, particularly because of the teachings of some good Catholic nuns. Finally Isabel finds the energy to escape – for a while at least – from that husband when she learns his liaison and she can force him to accept. But she is so pent up in her stubborn decision that she can never step back and consider a real escape. Yet, maybe, at the end, there is a wavering touch of hope – for her. It is incredible how this woman, who wants to be strong-headed and independent, fails to see the men who love her and to recognize the man who uses her. As it is said in the film somewhere, Americans cannot become Europeans, and yet Isabel succeeds very well in becoming twisted and thwarted in Europe. Is that typically European ? Maybe. Nicole Kidman plays the role with style, delicacy, dainty and quaint nuances, but also with a tremendous amount of gusto, sentiment, feeling and emotion. She is probably ten times better than she had ever been, now she can measure herself with actors that are not stereotyped. Her freedom is probably the key to her present depth. Is the film a metaphor of her life ? Maybe. But who cares. What is important is that this Nicole Kidman is able to bring us such a marvellous masterpiece, though some of the « special effects » (strange camera angles and mirror effects) could have been avoided to reach a more intense purity.
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Jane Campion transposed one of Henry James' best novels into a formidable masterpiece.
She captured luminously the author's main themes: money and love, Puritanism, innocence and survival.

A gift of a fortune by an uncle to a young lady turns into a nightmare: money doesn't buy happiness.
She becomes the target of those who need the money for their own `standing' and the survival of their offspring (daughter).
Another main theme of Henry James is Puritanism: the rejection of the `physical' body. The innocent lady is captured through the discovery of physical contact, here, a French kiss. It overwhelms her completely and she gets entangled in a web of lies, hard plays of domination and subtle intrigues in order to keep her former admirers at bay. She stays blind for the `real' world of true affections until she is confronted with naked and shattering facts.

The performance of the cast (Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey and others) is simply sublime. Rarely have difficult expressions in harsh and deeply pure or malignant emotional confrontations so intensely been interpreted.
A must see.
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on 6 March 2002
Jeremy Irons may well be a convincing rogue (as the first reviewer noted), but not in this movie - he doesn't actually appear in this film (?!) John Malkovich however, does, and turns in a unsettling yet magnetic performance which is in reminiscent of his role in Dangerous Liasons.
Nicole Kidman does extremely well in an unsympathetic role and Viggo Mortensen shines in a small role as the suitor Nicole should have chosen in the first place. The film looks fabulous - the costumes and sets are truly stunning and the majority of the cast are impressive, but as with the book, you are untimately left struggling to comprehend the heoines poor decisions, which makes the film less than totally satisfying. Still worth checking out for fans of costune drama though.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 November 2015
This 1996 adaptation of the book tells the story of Isabel Archer [Nicole Kidman], an naive young woman of independent means who refuses marriage in order to discover ‘life’ and heads for England in 1872, but is pursued by two suitors. At the base of it all is the human craving for monetary gain –especially marriage for wealth not love, a trend Isabel appears to be trying to flee from but ends up becoming ensnared in when her wealthy uncle dies, leaving her a small fortune. Isabel is a bit of a dreamer and fantasist, soon falling under the influence of her new older and more worldly new ‘friend’ Madame Merle [Barbara Hershey] and the devious rapscallion Gilbert Osmond [John Malkovich]. Can Isabel maintain her independence and free-will or will she capitulate to social norms?
With a star studded cast this promises much but at almost 2½ hours in length the slow pace and stage theatre feel is somewhat long [lose a *]. Much of the settings are dark and dingy, adding to the oppressive atmosphere, as even the romantic settings they find themselves in are often miserable, but the 5.1 surround sound is truly inspired in some scenes, especially corridors and cavernous buildings.
The single disc opens to a 6 language choice screen, which then goes to main menu offering play, scene selection, onus material [trailer and a documentary], audio languages [4 choices, English, French, castellano and Italian] and subtitle languages [English, deaf and hard of hearing, French, Italian, Castellano, Portuguese and Netherlands].
As a miniseries it would work, but not as a long film, requiring a 45 minute trim. If you can stick with it, it is a great story, although quite obvious, and I’d like to give more than *** but found it dragged out and too ‘arty’ in approach.
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Jane Campion is a brilliant director who can direct a film and convey much with a minimum of language and action. Her film, "The Piano" is a testament to that innate talent. This would lead one to believe that directing an adaptation of a Henry James novel would be a natural segue for her.
While this is a lush and beautiful period piece, the problem with it is that it is somewhat dull. Despite stellar performances by Barbara Hershey and the supporting cast, the main star, Nicole Kidman, is out of her league, though she is a luminous beauty and has some acting ability. The problem is that her performance lacks the presence or depth necessary to transcend the material and make this a truly interesting film. She just is not good enough an actress to be able to carry this type of storyline and engage the viewer in the lead role of wealthy expatriate, Isabel Archer.
Moreover, while John Malkovich gives a wonderful performance as the malevolent Gilbert Osmond, he is decidedly miscast as he is simply not charismatic enough to make it believable that Isabel Archer would throw caution to the wind over such an unattractive and, decidedly, sinister man. It is unfortunate, as the film is an otherwise fairly faithful adaptation of Henry James' complex novel of the same name. It could have been a contender.
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on 8 May 2015
Beautifully acted and directed also faithful to the book, though a little more explicit than up tight Henry James. All in all a pleasure in spite of the enigmatic ending but that's in the book too and it would have shown a lack of courage to produce a happy end or even an unhappy one.
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on 24 August 2014
Like so many films of Henry James's novels, this explains much that is unclear in the writing. But this is also a superb film, beautifully cast, with characterisation that brings out all the Jamesian subtleties of relationships, and much of the seductiveness which James seems not to address directly.
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on 15 February 2012
I found this film very difficult to watch and was close to giving it up several times. This is no reflection on the acting, upon which I make no comment, but rather on the production itself, which is filmed in such a sombre light that it is often difficult to see the characters and their reactions to what is said and done. Without having read the novel, I found it difficult at times to place and understand some of the characters and their relationships.
Overall a disappointing experience.
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