The Wings Of The Dove

The Wings Of The Dove


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Helena Bonham Carter excels when she plays the bitch. Perhaps, everyone does. Bitches have the best lines and usually get what they want, while good girls have a tendency to wait for happy endings like a nightingale waits in Berkeley Square for a songwriter to pass by.

Bonham Carter plays Kate Croy in Hossein Amini's inspired adaptation of Henry James' novel of emotional intrigue. She is a woman of strong character and sharp intelligence, less a bitch than a manipulator, someone who makes opportunities work for her if happiness has a chance of fulfillment.

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She has been made the ward of a strict, snobbish, elegant aunt (Charlotte Rampling) after her mother's death and her father's decline into poverty and the opium dens. The year is 1910. The place, London. Her boyfriend is Merton Densher (Linus Roach), a journalist, whose youthful principles have been frayed by experience and diluted by cynicism. Kate knows that her aunt would never allow such a liaison and she needs her patronage for its easy access to the aristocratic life. Destitute on the streets of Hackney is no alternative, neither is sharing a two room digs with a man who works all hours.

The film has a mannered and exquisite look, masking an intensity of feeling. It is the story of a menage-a-trois that never quite fits its definition. Kate understands that money, not blood, keeps the upper classes buoyant. Millie (Alison Elliott), a vibrant, sweet-natured American heiress arrives in London and becomes Kate's friend. She meets Merton, not knowing of his association with Kate, and fancies him rotten.

Somehow all three end up in Venice on a romantic holiday. Kate knows that Millie is dying of a terminal illness and encourages Merton to seduce her. He is ambivalent. He lets circumstance dictate.

Amini's script cuts James to the bone. Softley allows the magic of Venice to intoxicate his senses. The actors collude in a masquerade of infinite subtlety. Bonham Carter has seldom been so vital. Roach (last seen in "Priest") has a clear sense of objectivity, like a voyeur of his own destiny. Elliott has the hardest part.

Millie is naive without being foolish, privileged without being spoilt, a victim of her own goodness. She becomes tragic and unforgettable, haunting Kate's future and Merton's present, like the spirit of perfect joy.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A woman who can't marry her lover due to his lack of wealth, sees an answer to her problems in the form of a sick millionairess.
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Director: Iain Softley

Writer: Genry James

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roach, Alison Elliot, Charlotte Rampling, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Gambon, Alex Jennings.

Year: 1997

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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