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"When I can't be desired for myself, I would rather not be desired at all."
on 7 May 2006
It's always interesting to do a comparison of the old and the new. Watching the latest version of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone starring Helen Mirren, one can see how the social mores of the time can have a profound effect on what we actually end up watching on the screen. I was well prepared to rubbish this particular version, but in many respects this newer and sexier version, achieves a depth of story and character that the older version could never hope to achieve.
In this adaptation, the sets, locations and costumes are lavish - although there are less exterior shots in Rome in this one, perhaps because the City no longer resembles the setting of the original story. Director Robert Ackerman and writer Martin Sherman have obviously traded scene for deeper character development, highlighting the sexual intimacy that takes place between Paolo and Karen Stone.
While the basic structure of the first movie has been retained, certain elements have been shifted around and expounded upon. Karen's best friend Meg is now Christopher (Roger Allam) an effete man who is presumably modeled on Williams himself. Karen's husband Tom (Brian Dennehy) has a larger part to play, and his apology to her that he hasn't been that good in the "physical" department is a nice addition, as it makes Karen's middle-aged sexual awakening all the more justified.
Perhaps the biggest asset is the casting of Olivier Martinez as Paolo (covered up tattoo aside). Although Warren Beauty was good, Martinez just seems more compelling and authentic and he fits the role of the hot young gigolo as smoothly as the tailored suits that his client buys for him. And Anne Bancroft's turn as the Contessa, reduced to the position of procurer for wealthy old American widows, is a much more overtly mercenary and nastier, than Lotte Lenya's.
Mirren's Karen isn't as neurotic and fearful as Vivian Leigh's portrayal, but she is just as fixated on getting older, if not more so, and she comes across as much more sensual, and also willing to explore that darker side of her nature. Because this version was made in 2003, we get a lot more sex, which is good, because it's important to the story, and to the development of the relationship with Karen and Paolo.
Karen basically gets quickie sex whether she wants it or not - on the lounge in her rooftop apartment, in the front seat of a car on the way to a picnic, and up against a wall of a nightclub whilst she is bedecked in jewels and fur. There's some obligatory nudity, particularly shots of Mirren's bust, you get to see Martinez' taught, tight body.
The sex is steamy, if not a bit choreographed, and Paolo always initiates it before he ever hits her up for money. Of course, Karen falls for him and deludes herself into thinking he cares for her. The last part of the film is pretty much by the book - she obviously knows it will end, but she allows her heart to feel otherwise.
Another interesting emphasis is the decline of the Italian aristocracy and the bitter anti-American feeling. The Contessa and Paulo are proud people, they come from nobility, yet they have lost everything in the war - you get the sense that Paulo hates being a gigolo and that the Contessa hates pimping him out. In a later scene, the Contessa even cites the bombing and invasion of Italy by the Americans as the source of her destitution.
Overall, while made for the small screen, this version of the Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone really manages to capture the heart and desperation of Williams' work. He really seemed to like spinning these tales of once-beautiful, aging women, desperate for love and addictively pursuing affection, literally at any cost. This film - buoyed by Mirren's sensual performance and Martinez' earthy and sexy charisma - is a fine contemporary addition to the series of films showing the power and emotion of William's literary legacy. Mike Leonard May 06.