The Wings Of The Dove

Henry James's novel of social-climbing, forbidden love, friendship and betrayal, given a lush treatment that neglects neither the elaborate period trappings nor the story's intensely contemporary emotional underpinnings. Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) is the daughter of a socially prominent mother who abandoned her station for the love of an opium-addicted...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Henry James's novel of social-climbing, forbidden love, friendship and betrayal, given a lush treatment that neglects neither the elaborate period trappings nor the story's intensely contemporary emotional underpinnings. Kate Croy (Helena Bonham

Carter) is the daughter of a socially prominent mother who abandoned her station for the love of an opium-addicted wastrel (Michael Gambon). After her mother's death, Kate is taken under the wing of her steely aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling) and faced with a wrenching choice: She can return to

the life of money and privilege into which her mother was born, but only if she abandons her lover, journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache). A meeting with fabulously wealthy but frail American heiress Millie Theale (Alison Elliott) suggests an ingenious but cold-blooded way out, one that demands

she betray her growing friendship with Millie and both manipulate and morally compromise the man she loves. Undaunted by James's convoluted prose, Softley and screenwriter Hossein Amini excavated from his suffocating sentences a crisp and very modern story of heads and hearts at cross-purposes,

moving the time period forward a few years (from 1902 to 1910) to heighten the sense of bold personalities -- particularly Kate and Millie -- chafing at the strictures of a dying code of social behavior that's not dying quite fast enough to liberate them. The sight of elaborately costumed

Kate smoking and riding the subway -- let alone making frenzied love to Merton against a Venetian wall -- packs a surprising wallop, and Bonham Carter's performance as the calculating Kate should put those Helena Bonham Corsets jokes to rest for a while.