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Beware Peculiar Influences
on 7 September 2012
This is a Merchant ivory chamber-work, filmed in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Henry James, on whose novella this film is based, argued that character in itself is plot enough. Thus there is not much of a story, but rather a clash of different attitudes to life.
His story is set in mid-nineteenth-century New England. Brother Felix and sister Eugenia, whose lives have been wholly lived in Europe, come to visit their cousins who live in an old-style middle-class family living seven miles from Boston. The family's patriarch warns the rest of his charges that the presence of the Europeans will expose the family "to peculiar influences".
These "peculiar influences" at first comprise such seemingly innocent pleasures as sitting for portraits and going on rides in the surrounding countryside, but then the perfume of romance settles in the air and things get complicated.
The film has its fair share of archetypes: the puritan patriarch; two daughters, one wayward, the other sensible; the falling son; the bachelor cousin; the aged aunt; and the passionate non-conformist minister. As one would expect of a Merchant Ivory film, it's all well-staged and shot with much attention to period detail. But the film has a staged style verging on parody. If there was an American version of Monty Python, they would have fun emulating the film.