The American

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

A round of applause to director Paul Unwin and scripter Michael Hastings for ensuring that Henry James' themes emerge relatively intact in this BBC adaptation of his clear-eyed account of American folly abroad. Christopher Newman (Matthew Modine) is a 19th-century success story who amassed his wealth in California and is now polishing off his rough edges...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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A round of applause to director Paul Unwin and scripter Michael Hastings for ensuring that Henry James' themes emerge relatively intact in this BBC adaptation of his clear-eyed account of American folly abroad. Christopher Newman (Matthew Modine) is a 19th-century success story who amassed his wealth in California and is now polishing off his rough edges in Europe. While taking in the Louvre's collection, he meets painter Noemi Nioche (Eva Birthistle) and nonchalantly sleeps with her. Newman hopes to find a socially suitable bride during the course of his grand tour, but he doesn't understand aristocratic mores and sets his sights on unattainable widow Claire de Cintre (Aisling O'Sullivan), who isn't eager to enter into a second union so soon after having been liberated from the marriage of convenience she was prodded into by her formidable mother, Madame de Bellegarde (Diana Rigg). Madame de Bellegarde takes her noble bloodline very seriously and will do just about anything to protect its purity; rumors that she may have hastened her own husband's demise should be a warning. Claire at first gives the brash Christopher the brush off, but when he persists Madame de Bellegarde starts plotting to remove her daughter from circulation. She threatens to betroth Clair to an inbred but titled relative (T.P. McKenna) at the same time that Christopher finds an ally in Claire's foppish brother, Valentin (Andrew Scott), who's taken a fancy to the discarded Noemi. Valentin's duel with Noemi's latest married protector ends badly and weakens Christopher's credibility, but though Christopher may be an upstart who made his fortune in soap and railroads, he's no pushover. Madame de Bellegarde shunts Claire off to a nunnery and Christopher blackmails her into sanctioning their marriage, but Madame de Bellegarde still has a trick or two up her sleeve. Love's transforming power takes a distant second to the stranglehold of tradition in this period drama. While the entire cast and crew deserve high praise, Rigg is unforgettable as the old world harridan.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A round of applause to director Paul Unwin and scripter Michael Hastings for ensuring that Henry James' themes emerge relatively intact in this BBC adaptation of his clear-eyed account of American folly abroad. Christopher Newman (Matthew Modine) is a 19th… (more)

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