The Golden Bowl

Like titular gilded objet d'art, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory's opulent adaptation of Henry James's final completed novel is beautifully crafted but fatally flawed. After a ridiculous opening sequence set in Renaissance Italy, the story shifts to turn-of-the-20th-century London, where American billionaire Adam Verver (Nick Nolte) has...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Like titular gilded objet d'art, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory's opulent adaptation of Henry James's final completed novel is beautifully crafted but fatally flawed. After a ridiculous opening sequence set in Renaissance Italy, the story shifts to turn-of-the-20th-century London, where American billionaire Adam Verver (Nick Nolte) has been acquiring masterpieces of Western art for his new museum back home. Though widower Verver and his young daughter Maggie (Kate Beckinsale) are devoted to each other, Maggie has agreed to marry dashing Italian prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam), who has an impeccable Old World pedigree and not a lire to his name. Maggie is too naive to suspect that the match is most likely a marriage of convenience on Amerigo's part, and she's blind to the fact that he's been having an affair with her best friend, Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman). Shortly before the ceremony, Charlotte arrives in London and sneaks off with Amerigo to buy Maggie a wedding present. She finds what she thinks is the perfect gift — a gilded crystal bowl — but the prince advises against it: The glittering surface, he notices, masks a deep crack. Two years later, Charlotte returns to England to visit the now-married couple and is surprised to receive a marriage proposal of her own — from Mr. Verver. Charlotte accepts, but finds nothing has really changed between father and daughter: They remain inseparable, leaving their respective spouses free to tumble back into each other's arms. The third James adaptation to emerge from the Merchant-Ivory lit-flick mill, this film arrived in theaters on a wave of unusually bad word-of-mouth: Many who saw it at Cannes despised it, and original distributor Miramax demanded a recut before finally handing it back to the filmmakers. But it's hard to see what all the flap was about. Despite a few dodgy accents (co-star Anjelica Huston can't seem to decide exactly what part of the world her character hails from), it's no worse than THE EUROPEANS or THE BOSTONIANS, and features a few very strong performances. (Surprisingly good is Thurman, who's matured into an intriguingly emotional actress.) What is grating is the filmmakers' perennial tendency to underestimate their audiences; their lack of faith leads them to drive home each nuance with a hammer. That sort of thing may fly with a social commentator on the order of E.M. Forster, but doesn't suit the psychological subtlety of Henry James.

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Like titular gilded objet d'art, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory's opulent adaptation of Henry James's final completed novel is beautifully crafted but fatally flawed. After a ridiculous opening sequence set in Renaissance Italy, the stor… (more)

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