Film Session: “Portrait of a Lady”

Of the great writers of the 19th/20th centuries, the American Henry James (1843-1916) is certainly one of the most frequently adapted to cinema (and also to television). Among the titles that were inspired by his stories or novels, we can mention, for example, “The Innocents” (Jack Clayton, 1961), “Daisy Miller” (Peter Bogdanovich, 1974), “The Boston Women” (James Ivory, 1984), or even “What Maisie Knows” (Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2012), transposing the novel published in 1897 to the present.

Among the great recreations of James in cinema is “Portrait of a Lady” (1996), a UK/US co-production signed by New Zealander Jane Campion. Centered on a young American woman, Isabel Archer, heiress to a great fortune, this is the story of a process of seduction and manipulation that leads her to a dead end, jeopardizing her finances and her social status…

Available in streaming, “Portrait of a Lady” can be seen as a late but fascinating example of a certain melodramatic tradition that had its golden age in production in the 1930s/40s. In addition to the detailed characterization of the period, we are facing an exemplary case of a style in which the approach to the enigmas of human behavior is inseparable from the work of a cast in a state of grace.

In the role of Archer, Nicole Kidman has one of her most complex and probably least known compositions. She is accompanied, among others, by John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Shelley Winters, Viggo Mortensen and Christian Bale. In Campion’s career, this is a film that seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the lasting impact of his previous feature film, “The Piano” (1993) — in any case, “Portrait of a Lady” is a cinematic gem waiting to be released. be rediscovered.

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