The Golden Bowl [DVD] 
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Merchant-Ivory adaptation of the Henry James novel about European nobility and American wealth at the end of the 19th century. Italian prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) is set to marry American heiress Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale), and must therefore break with his longtime mistress Charlotte (Uma Thurman). The marriage goes ahead, Maggie falls pregnant, and the happy family divide their time between England and Italy. However, when Charlotte returns a few years later and marries Maggie's father Adam (Nick Nolte), trouble is sure to follow.
Henry James' novel The Golden Bowl is here adapted into one of the most beautiful films yet from the Merchant Ivory stable (and that's saying something given their penchant for fin de siècle subject matter). But it was an unwieldy novel and as a film it's flawed just like the titular bowl. The action centres on Maggie, daughter of American millionaire Adam Verver, who is married to the impoverished Italian nobleman Amerigo, who had previously had a secret affair with the poor but scheming Charlotte. The square is completed when Charlotte marries the widowed Adam. Although Maggie (artlessly played by Kate Beckinsdale) begins the film as a complete innocent, it is ultimately she who takes tacit control of the tangled relationships.
Nick Nolte brings a patrician quality to the part of Adam, whose main obsession in life is collecting objects of beauty and value for a museum he's planning in the States. Jeremy Northam's Amerigo is convincing without being likeable. It is Charlotte, however, who is the centre around which everything else revolves and Uma Thurman relies too heavily on her own charms and not enough on strong characterisation. In the end, she is not sufficiently magnetic for her role to ring true.
On the DVD: The Golden Bowl's sumptuous settings are a glory to behold, and beautifully captured here. The inclusion of original film footage from early last century adds tremendously to the period flavour and the behind-the-scenes interviews and brief film of Merchant Ivory's past endeavours add to the appeal of the package, though there are effectively no subtitles or language options. --Harriet Smith
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Nolte is fantastic as the gentleman,Beckinsdale(the book's protagonist)like a wounded dove, Northam,used to period drama gives a slightly machiavellian performance,Thurman seems so busy mouthing her lines robotically in a role Winslett or Blanchett would have acted better. Although it is carefully dressed with stunning locations (Italy, London, et al.) and gorgeous production values, none of this can quite conceal what is ultimately the somewhat tedious retelling of James' story of love,betrayal,and cracked veneers in a film of laborious pace.The film goesto Angelica Huston and Nick Nolte.
Italian Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) is the impoverished owner of Palazzo Ugolini near Rome, unable to maintain the palace until, in 1903, he marries Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale), daughter of the first American billionaire, Adam Verver (Nick Nolte). The prince has previously had a secret affair with Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman), a friend of Maggie. When Charlotte subsequently marries Adam, Maggie's father, both couples move to England, where three years later, Charlotte and Amerigo resume their passion.
The relationships among the four principals are explored with the same sophistication as in James's novel. Maggie's torment is fully revealed when she suspects an affair, and her determination to protect her father from this knowledge becomes an agonizing chore. Numerous symbols help to convey the trauma of the betrayal, from the history of the prince's castle, in which an ancestor found his young wife and his son in bed and executed them, to Maggie's dream of being imprisoned in a porcelain pagoda which has a crack.
Nolte shows surprising subtlety in his emotions as he suspects his wife's treachery, while Uma Thurman is passionate, reckless, and very seductive in her obsession with the prince. Northam explores the prince's character fully, moving from early passion for Charlotte to a more mature awareness of his love and respect for Maggie. Beckinsale, as the ingenuous Maggie, develops maturity and shows remarkable character as she works diligently to protect her marriage and her father. Supporting roles by Angelica Huston and Madeleine Potter further develop the psychological pressures by illustrating the characters' lives within the context of their frenetic, continental lifestyles.
Director James Ivory inserts old kinescope films and newspapers of turn-of-the-century America into the film to illustrate the on-going contrast between life in America and life in Europe, a constant James theme, as Verver builds his new American museum of European treasures. Lovers of Henry James will find this film faithful to James's intents, while those less enamored of his convoluted literary style may be inspired to read him because of the psychological sophistication of this plot--and this film. Mary Whipple
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