The Golden Bowl

The Golden Bowl

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Merchant Ivory have grown into a pastiche of themselves, which is both unfair and understandable. The Golden Bowl is their third Henry James adaptation. It could have been their seventh, the way they approach privilege and money. What may come as a surprise is that the best (Portrait Of A Lady, Wings Of The Dove) were made by other people.

James Ivory is not a passionate director and yet so many of his movies are about passion. Upper-class Englishmen pride themselves on discretion and a stiff upper lip, deeply unfashionable human qualities in these tabloid times. The Edwardians, of course, were masters of the art.

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Is it possible in the year 2000 to make a film of over two hours long about rich, bored people having emotional entanglements of the unacceptable kind? The answer is yes, because this is it, except the affair between Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) and Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman) hardly breaks the surface of a one-night stand.

Admittedly, Charlotte had her heart sold on Amerigo from the start, even before he marries the American heiress, Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale). In fact, they were lovers before the story begins.

The Prince's problem is a dilapidated villa in Rome, no money and ooddles of Mediterranean charm. Maggie's daddy made a billion dollars on what he calls "soft coal". Now he spends his time collecting works of art in Europe and planning a palatial museum in his home town.

Everything you expect from Merchant Ivory is here - the exquisite clothes, the stately homes, frescos that climb to the ceiling, lawns as smooth as billiard tables. The jewel in their crown is Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Her script, as always, stutters with suppressed brilliance.

The actors battle their wardrobe, occasionally without success. Northam was the best thing in An Ideal Husband and The Winslow Boy. As an Italian aristocrat, born to respect duty and the manners of his tribe, he is even better here.

Thurman's Charlotte is beauty afire. Compared to Helena Bonham Carter in Wings Of The Dove, she lacks subtlety. Nick Nolte's philanthropic industrialist has silver hair and polished skin. He hovers in the shadow of human weakness like God in a starched white collar.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Dangerous infidelities amongst the rich and aristocratic in Edwardian London.
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Director: James Ivory

Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Henry James

Starring: Uma Thurman, Jeremy Northam, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale, Anjelica Huston, James Fox, Madeleine Potter

Year: 2000

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Wings Of The Dove