Projections - Movie Reviews

The Golden Bowl

The Golden Bowl

Like the titular object of Henry James's cleverly camouflaging novel, The Golden Bowl, as adapted by the Ismail Merchant / James Ivory team with their scenarist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on board to help clarify its narrative complexities, is glamorously gilded.

In terms of character relationships, The Golden Bowl gains some fascination, but not to the degree of Iain Softley's The Wings of the Dove which had more of an emotional cohesiveness that Merchant and Ivory can't quite coalesce, even with sumptuous production designs and camera work which elevates lovely rented homes of rich tycoon turned art collector, Nick Nolte's Adam Verver, noted as the world's first billionaire.

The text of James is pared down to examine, in an overall jejune fashion as a subtle psychodrama, the dynamics that occur between Nolte's Adam, his daughter Maggie (Kate Beckinsale of the soon to be seen Pearl Harbor), lovely impoverished American expatriate Charlotte (Uma Thurman), Maggie's best friend from childhood, and the poor Italian Prince Amerigo, played by Jeremy Northam, the highly trained British thespian known for strong portrayals in The Winslow Boy and An Ideal Husband.

Though the four actors do their utmost to help make a story of deceit, betrayal, love, and finally redemption enticing, their work is often overshadowed by the many exotic cosmopolitan sights as the story deliberately moves back and forth from Italy to England with glimpses of America's Industrial Revolution in its early years.  The numerous artistic sights which are set in mansions and castles are transposed with a contemporary like newsreel footage as Merchant and Ivory impress the notion of change of technology which compares with how the four characters must deal with their suppressed situation, and The Golden Bowl may unfold to some faithful art house patrons as a variation on the story of Lily Bart, The House of Mirth, also exquisitely photographed and costumed.

Here, the visual aplomb seems to dilute what Ivory and Jhabvala attempt to give attention to from the secrets and lies that emanate from an unsettling prologue of Amerigo's ancestors suffering a terrible fate once a furtive liaison is uncovered by a Duke.

Now, moving to 1903 Italy, Charlotte and Amerigo have to break up due to their lower class standing though a passion still exists, and fortunes befit him in the person of Maggie, the naive heiress to Adam (Nolte), as they soon wed and have a son.  But three days before the wedding, a distraught Charlotte has arrived at Maggie's poshly expansive abode to rekindle the flame with the now very well-off Prince.  How one views Thurman's modernly chic performance scathed with willful if overwrought tendencies may begin to set an attitude on the degree to which The Golden Bowl may be jaded.

With Angelica Huston on hand in a nosy, but delicate role of Aunt Fanny, who is often invited with her spouse, done in elegantly terse fashion by James Fox with more knowledge about how men are inspired by aggressive women, to Adam's beautiful homes, The Golden Bowl tingles with what people try to do for another's best interests.

Yet, as the narrative becomes less subtle after Maggie procures the same antique crystal adorned thinly with gold that a shop dealer had held for Amerigo and Charlotte, a bowl with the slightest crack, akin to a pagoda that Charlotte regales to Amerigo, it's clear that tensions will arise.  Maggie, though married, wants to spend time with her long widowed father, and is elated when he becomes the husband of Charlotte who may love him and his artistic endeavors.  But it takes a coincidental visit to get a birthday present that begins to underline the turmoil that exists for a wealthy father and daughter.

While Beckinsale gets to do more as The Golden Bowl moves to its second, and more intriguing half, her depth is so opposite the furtive Charlotte that even through her games with honorable intentions, it's not that engaging.  Nolte, in his J.P. Morgan guise, finds a delicate balance in a calculating man who gets the most out of his timely decisions and the climax which has the design of a museum in America coming to fruition.

During this too symbolic movie that could have been better like An Ideal Husband, manipulation is rampant but these emotionally burned people can't spice up a lushly mounted drama that is too mindful of what can go wrong from one tiny crack.

The Golden Bowl

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