Director Marin Scorsese takes Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence and paints the screen with every beautiful image that comes to mind when reading her Pulitzer Prize winning book.
Scorsese's attention to detail is amazing. The New York setting in the 1870s is filled with meticulous touches; richly appointed drawing rooms, candle light flickering above tables set with crystal, gold, silver and elaborate flower arrangements, wall coverings and paintings framed in gold leaf, and costumes that are ruffled, corseted and formal, all help to transport the audience to another era.
Joanne Woodward narrates the story of the love triangle between elegant Newland Archer (Daniel Day Lewis, The Last of the Mohicans) his delicate fiance, May Wellington (Winona Ryder, Dracula) and her modern, scandalous cousin Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfieffer, Batman).
The Countess leaves Europe and her philandering husband, who although, lavishes her with gifts and jewels, treats her badly. She moves to New York to be near her family: cousin May, Aunt Wellington (Geraldine Chaplin) and Granny Mingott, delightfully played by Miriam Margolis.
Archer, a lawyer for a New York firm, is hired to advise the Countess of the possibility of a divorce, but he soon falls under her spell and can think of nothing else but the next time they will be together.
The rest of the film is devoted to Archer's conflict as he sorts out his feelings of love for both women.
The talented cast is terrific. Expressive Daniel Day Lewis truly becomes the character of Archer, his face showing every painfully restrained emotion. Pfieffer was never more beautiful or moving and Ryder is great as the innocent who's smarter than she appears.
The film tells a sumptuous love story. A scene is the back of a carriage with Archer taking off the Countess' glove and slowly kissing her hand, her wrist and her neck, is more provocative than any explicit love scene made.
When I think of the privileged class during the 19th century, I conceived a time of easy, carefree existence, but it was really an era that was wrought with structure, protocol and unforgiveness to anyone who broke the rules.
Although the film is over two hours long, I could have gladly watched for two more hours; the time flew by.
Breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally gripping and utterly satisfying, The Age of Innocence is just plain perfect.
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