17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
An extraordinary adaptation of Ms. Wharton's brilliant novel,
This review is from: House of Mirth [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Writer-director Terence Davies has done a superb job of adapting Edith Wharton's brilliant novel for the screen. Rarely deviating from the source, much of the dialogue is as Ms Wharton wrote it. Set in the Gilded Age of 1905 New York, the film portrays the closed, repressive society of the wealthy aristocracy at the dawn of the 20th century. It is also the story of the downfall of one woman, who attempts to live by her own rules, with no sponsor and no money of her own.
Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) is one of society's most beautiful and accomplished women. She is searching for a rich husband but is drawn to Lawrence Seldon, (Eric Stoltz), a man whom she respects and could love. Seldon, however, is a mere barrister, whose lack of income makes him entirely unsuitable as a spouse. "Why is it when we meet we always play this elaborate game?" Lily asks Lawrence, at one point. The answer is that the claustrophobic world they live in gives them no other choice.
Therefore Lily is forced to explore farther afield for available suitors in the limited circle of her acquaintances. As expected, she is popular with both bachelors and married men. Most of the bachelors propose marriage at one time or another but, on each occasion, she cannot bring herself to marry a man she despises. Though she has little money, she has family connections, good breeding and the hope of coming into an inheritance. Lily has been brought up to be an ornament, as were most women of her class at that time. She is a gilded bird with a noble heart, but clearly she is not aware of the restrictions of her cage. Part of Lily's tragedy is that she does have character, spirit, and a conscience. However, she does not know how to align these attributes, with her ornamental avocation, and her ambitions to marry a wealthy man of good birth.
Lily has developed a gambling habit to support her lifestyle, and to supplement her allowance. An unfortunate losing streak has put her into debt. In her naivete, she forms an unsavory business alliance with a married man, Gus Trenor, (Dan Aykroyd). Later, she is unjustly accused of having an affair with him and their business arrangement also come to light.
Her family cuts her off without a penny because of the scandal. Society friends and connections reject their former darling, trying to extricate themselves from any repercussions Lily's indiscreet behavior may have on their reputations. The irony is that Lily has never committed any of the sins she is accused of. Several friends have done far worse...but with maximum discretion. Lily's crime is indiscretion. Her beaus disappear, as do her marriage prospects. When, in desperation, she reconsiders and decides to accept the proposal of Sim Rosedale, (Anthony LaPaglia), an ambitious and kindly businessman, he is no longer willing to offer her the position of wife, only mistress. The hypocrisy of her class becomes more apparent to her, as she searches for a means to survive, with all the familiar doors closed in her face.
Lily's descent, from society's darling to a penniless, friendless woman is terribly realistic and heartbreaking. The decisions she makes to resolve her situation are astonishing and make the storyline all the more fascinating. You have to see this movie for yourself to discover what happens to our heroine. Director Davies' suffuses the film with an almost unbearable sadness which really captures the tragedy and waste of Lily's life.
Gillian Anderson's performance as the doomed Lily is superb. Lily Bart is one of my favorite literary characters, and I was pleasantly surprised at the former "X-Files" costar's portrayal. Her presence is felt in almost every scene and she is captivating to watch. Laura Linney delivers as the vicious hostess Bertha Dorset, and Elizabeth McGovern is terrific as one of Lily's confidantes. The production design is sumptuous. Kudos to cinematographer Remi Adefarisin, who got an Oscar nomination for "Elizabeth." Eric Stoltz' portrayal of Seldon is somewhat stiff. I, personally, would have liked seen another more charismatic actor play Lily's love interest. This may have to do more with my taste in men than with Mr. Stoltz's considerable talents. however.
This is an extraordinary film. Highly recommended! And by all means check-out the novel if you have not already read it.