Washington Square is an engaging period piece, with wonderful performances to be had by Albert Finney, Maggie Smith, and Ben Chaplin. The only jarring note here is the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who lacks subtlety and is so heavy handed as to be distracting.
This movie closely follows Henry James' novel of the same name. Albert Finney plays a wealthy doctor, Austin Sloper, whose wife died giving birth to their daughter, Katherine, an only child raised by the imposing Doctor Sloper with the assistance of the Katherine's maternal, but silly and vapid Aunt Lavinia, beautifully played by Maggie Smith.
Katherine, a shy and clumsy child, desperately wanting, but lacking, affection from her imperious and distant father, grows up to be a plain faced, graceless, and awkward, young woman. As played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, she is a caricature rather than a fully fleshed character. Her portrayal of Katherine shows her lack of skill as an actress, especially when compared to the finely nuanced performances given by the other actors.
When this clumsy, plain jane is wooed by the dashing, but penniless young hunk, Morris Townsend, she falls hard and wants desperately to marry him. Silly Aunt Lavinia encourages the romance and aids and abets the lovers, curiously fulfilling her own romantic fantasies, while assisting her niece in fulfilling hers. Her father, however, pegs the handsome Mr. Townsend as a fortune hunter, because, he reasons, why else would Mr. Townsend want to marry his graceless lump of a daughter?
Needless to say, what follows is the cat and mouse game Dr. Sloper and Townsend play with each other, as well as with Katherine. Father threatens to disinherit daughter, and daughter swears she will marry suitor, despite father's threats. Suitor equivocates on the issue of whether disinheritance will cool his affections for Katherine. Does he do so out of love for Katherine or self interest? Suffice to say, while Katherine ends up finally getting some backbone in the end, one must ask who is the the ultimate victor in this drama. In my book, Father wins hands down and has the last laugh from the grave.
All in all, this is a handsome and, for the most part, well acted period piece that will be enjoyed by those who love this genre of film.