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Wings Of The Dove

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Wings Of The Dove

Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache
Director: Iain Softley
Rated: R
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Drama, Romance


*Also starring: Alison Elliott, Charlotte Rampling, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Gambon, Alex Jennings



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

During the working week, the subways of New York City-- and presumably those of other urban centers--are filled with people of all types. "Suits" are conspicuous enough: those middle-class executives and salespersons hustling around town making their appointments; while more youthful students boisterously ride the rails with an assortment of panhandlers, and preachers. And yet to see Kate (Helena Bonham Carter) straphanging in the British Underground circa 1910 as the opening scene of "The Wings of the Dove" is nothing short of astonishing, serving quite well to set the tone for the entire work. Kate is dressed as a member of London's upper crust. She appears immediately to be "slumming"--as though curious about the manners of the lower orders, even eager to arrange a liaison with one of its constituents. The initial minutes of this genuinely satisfying film of class and caste are its most startling, as Kate catches the eye of a handsome lower middle-class fellow, Merton Densher (Linus Roache), follows him silently up the lift leading to the street, and spontaneously embraces and passionately kisses the object of her lust. We know from that point that we're in for a thoroughly contemporary adaptation of this, one of James's lesser, novels, which takes flight with Hossein Amini's reworking and Iain Softley's comeback direction.

As portrayed deftly by the excellent Helena Bonham Carter, Kate is caught between passion and security. It's the old story, perhaps one of the six basic themes of all literature. The alluring young woman has one foot planted in the 19th century, a twenty-something plotter who has been taken in after her mother's death by her fabulously rich and socially conservative Aunt Maud (Charlotte Rampling). Her other foundation is purely twentieth-century, a liberated female determined to follow her appetites even when her lusts threaten her new and very appealing social standing.

In essence, we are shown a high-minded, intelligent version of the Eternal Triangle. Kate is loved by Lord Mark (Alex Jennings), a bored, alcoholic, albeit witty member of the upper echelons whom Maud has chosen for Kate's future husband. Kate, however, is in love with a commoner, however intelligent, one Merton Densher (Linus Roache), who argues for class reform and publishes opinion pieces in a London newspapers about such matters as the evils of the medical profession. Their clandestine meetings take on new meaning upon the arrival of Millie (Alison Elliott), a gorgeous and very rich young American, who is on a grand tour of Europe and is condoned by Maud's circle of snobs as one of them, a woman who would be "Queen of America" is that country had such a position. When Kate learns that Millie--also in love with Merton--is dying, she conspires to arrange a marriage between Millie and Merton, assuming that the latter would inherit a fortune upon the death of his new wife. Kate and Merton could then marry and live happily ever after, their need for love and money both entirely satisfied.

To the film's credit, the surprising conclusion is in no way prettified, an ending which is altogether Jamesian in capturing the irony of the situation. We are reminded immediately of this year's other highly successful adaptation of the Henry James novel of "Washington Square," in which a suitor, having flown from the affections of a shy and trusting partner, returns years later upon hearing that his former steady has accumulated a satisfactory inheritance.

Linus Roache and Helena Bonham Carter, both exceptional performers, make the sparks fly and in one explicit sexual situation, Carter poignantly exhibits her torn feelings about a man she is no longer sure she trusts. The key figure of Millie is played with American gusto by Alison Elliott, whose exuberance despite illness contrasts auspiciously with the jaded manner of a declining Eurotocracy. "Wings of the Dove" is more satisfying than "Washington Square," even while a bit less accessible to an American audience, given director Softley's ability to communicate the more intricate complexities of life among the pre-World War I elite.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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