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Henry James Collection, The (DVD)
Best known for his novels the chronicle the passions and missteps of 19th century Americans in Europe, Henry James continues to appeal to modern sensibilities with his deep understanding of character. This collection of adaptations from the BBC archives includes: The American with Matthew Modine and Diana Rigg, The Portrait of a Lady with Suzanne Neve, Richard Chamberlain and Edward Fox, The Spoils of Poynton with Gemma Jones and Ian Oglivy, The Wings of the Dove with Elizabeth Spriggs, Betsy Blair and John Castle, and The Golden Bowl with Daniel Massey, Barry Morse and Cyril Cusack.]]>
The novels of Henry James are celebrated for their psychological nuance and social detail--which becomes the raw material for surprisingly juicy and lavish television, thick with seduction, betrayal, sinister motives, and troubling secrets. The five BBC adaptations in The Henry James Collection transform high literature into the best soap opera you could ask for, resulting in a rich and satisfying collection of mini-series and movies. The most famous of the lot, The Portrait of a Lady, is unfortunately the weakest, despite the presence of Richard The Thorn Birds Chamberlain. Screenwriter Jack Pulman's stiff script leads to brittle performances, though Beatrix Lehmann has many marvelous moments as an acidic matriarch (a delicious character type that recurs in almost every James novel). When her effete son rhapsodizes about Isabel Archer, the American heiress visiting their estate, Lehmann pulls the rug out with "She's just a young girl on a trip to Europe; don't make such a meal of it." This mini-series is too much of a meal, all too faithful to the novel's plot but losing much of its drive.
Pulman does a much better job with The Golden Bowl by turning one of the novel's side characters--an elderly man with a nosy wife--into its narrator; and in the hands of top-notch Cyril Cusack, this narrator combines seeming obliviousness and sly understanding as he unwinds the story of a perhaps overly close father and daughter, whose familial bond threatens to destroy both of their marriages. The Golden Bowl also benefits from a lively, handsome cast and some gorgeous fashions--style mavens will drool over the creations of costume designer Ian Adley. The Spoils of Poynton, though not ranked highly among James' works, proves enormously entertaining as a mother and son manipulate a kind-hearted young woman in their fight with each other to claim the treasures of the family estate. Gemma Jones, Ian Ogilvy, and especially Pauline Jameson (as, of course, a scheming matriarch) skillfully balance light and dark as simple acquisitiveness turns into bitter struggle. The last two adaptations are movie-length, but what they lose in detail they gain in momentum and dramatic force. The American stars Matthew Modine as a wealthy American in love with a widowed Parisian gentlewoman; Diana Rigg is magnificently poisonous as the young widow's mother who spurns Modine, driving him to seek revenge. The most visually stylish of the set, The American takes a minor James novel and gives it plenty of zest; Modine, often bland, is perfect here, earnest and direct and all the more appealing for it. Finally, The Wings of the Dove vividly captures James' vision of Europe as shark-infested waters in which naive Americans get chewed up. Two British lovers, prevented from marrying by their lack of money, try to solve their problem by taking advantage of a wealthy American orphan, Milly Theale. Lisa Eichhorn's performance as Milly is so endearing and so hapless that the machinations around her grow increasingly horrifying--especially as the lives of the lovers themselves turn to ruin. --Bret Fetzer
Theatrical stage plays....not what I expected, very stiff acting, Richard Chamberlain worth watching in
The Making of a Lady, The American, worth watching, The Wings on a... Read more
My remarks are mostly directed toward the fine version of The Golden Bowl featured in this set. I have just watched it for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. Read morePublished 2 months ago by William Feras
A mixed bag. Some of the older dramatizations are too much like plays videotaped, but over all they capture James's penchant for paradox. Read morePublished 6 months ago by A mature customer.
Incredibly well-done. What amazes me is that the stories are presented in such a way that it is entirely clear what is going on at every moment, which cannot be said of the books... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Robert Avant