Rated R - Running time: 1:48 - Released 11/7/97

Helena Bonham Carter, star of such memorable films as A Room With A View (1986) and Howard's End (1992), has turned in another powerful performance in a film of the same style: a scenery- and costume-rich romance set in Europe in the early 20th century. The screenplay for The Wings Of The Dove, which was adapted by Hossein Amini from the original novel actually written about 100 years ago by Henry James, was retooled somewhat to be more appealing to a 1990s audience. It seems to have lost something in the translation. But Carter certainly delivers, and she is surrounded by equally strong performances by all the supporting cast and stunning cinematography by Eduardo Serra.

The story begins in 1910 with Kate Croy (Carter), a young woman forced to live a miserable life in London with her controlling, rich aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling). This is because her mother has recently died and her father (Michael Gambon) is an alcoholic opium addict with a heart of gold but no cash and no sense of responsibility. Since Kate has just come of age, Maude feels the need to see that her niece "marries well," which of course means marrying some high society snob, namely Lord Mark (Alex Jennings), whom she abhors. Meanwhile, Kate is already in love with one of her "old" (read: "poor") friends, Merton Densher (Linus Roache), a middle-class man who must actually work for a living. He writes for a newspaper. How gauche. But Aunt Maude has assured Kate that if she insists on going with him, she will be cut off from the family fortune, and so will her father, who is also receiving a weekly stipend from his nasty sister-in-law.

This movie, directed by Iain Softley, progresses slowly at first. In addition to establishing Kate's rather trite situation, the first half also introduces Milly Theale (Alison Elliott), Kate's rich American friend who is thought by Kate to be the object of everyone's infatuation. Lord Mark admits that he wants to marry Milly, but later he confides that it is really Kate that he loves, and that Milly is terminally ill and he just wants to marry her so that he can inherit her fortune, which he needs to maintain his acquired lifestyle. Then he and Kate can wed and be happy. Whether she wants to or not.

It is not until probably a full hour into the film that the actual plot starts to grind into motion: Kate wants her boyfriend Merton to court Milly (who is in love with him) for two reasons: (1) to give her some true love and affection in her last days, and (2) to marry her and thereby inherit her fortune for himself, so that he and Kate may live happily ever after.

As with Carter's other films, like the ones mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one is beautifully produced and impeccably acted. The music (by Ed Shearmur) is rich, the scenery is rich, the costumes are rich. If you are a fan of these romantic period pieces, you'll probably like this.

But it's not without its problems. It moves pretty slowly, it is terribly brooding, and it takes a while for the momentous amount of exposition to give way to the actual plot. The characterizations are well-defined, but Carter's characters in all these period movies are practically interchangeable, and frankly it's getting a little boring. Sylvester Stallone was great in Rocky, but by Rocky V we had had enough. Same problem here. Also there are some other issues, like Rampling's wicked-stepmother character being stereotyped to the point that one questions the validity of the entire story.

Granted, these are picky points, but they are indicative of a bigger problem: that of Amini and Softley getting a little sloppy in their attempt to continue milking the formula that was successful in Carter's previous major movies. But if you're in the mood for a weepy romance beautifully produced, you won't be disappointed. ****

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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