“The Wings of the Dove” (1997) starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Linus Roache, & Alison Elliott

A young woman, Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter), is offered the opportunity to return to a life of wealth in London society her mother gave up. Her aunt, Maude (Charlotte Rampling), has some conditions; Kate MUST sever ties w/ her father (Michael Gambon) and the journalist she has been seeing, Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Kate reluctantly agrees; she then becomes friendly w/ Milly Theale (Alison Elliott), a young/single American heiress making the Grand Tour. Merton crashes a party that Kate and Milly are attending, and Milly becomes interested in him. When Kate learns that Milly is seriously ill, she comes up w/ a plan to have her cake and eat it too, BUT things don’t go as planned! The original Milly was a tribute to Henry James’ niece, Minny, who died of tuberculosis (TB).

Kate: She liked you.

Merton: That’s because she doesn’t know me.

Kate: You’re not nearly as bad as you’d like to be.

This film (which I re-watched after many yrs.) is based on a novel by James; he and his circle of writer friends were more concerned w/ character development than plot. Though James was born and raised in a wealthy family in America, he found himself in his travels, then settled in England to be a writer. This is a period/costume drama where the main characters aren’t cliched; they think/act NOT unlike modern people. Kate wants to be charge of her social/romantic life; she resents having to spend time w/ Lord Mark (Alex Jennings, recently seen in The Crown). Bonham-Carter played Princess Margaret in The Crown (Netflix); I haven’t yet gotten to her season. Merton is outspoken and reveals the ills of society in his articles; I wanted to know more re: his work. Roache (whose parents were actors) was part of the ensemble cast of Law & Order (NBC). Elizabeth McGovern (best known for Downton Abbey) plays Susan, Milly’s kindly companion; the American actress settled in England after marriage. One of the young journos in the pub scene is Ben Miles (also seen in The Crown).

Merton: I don’t believe in any of the things I write about. I fake passion. I fake conviction.

Milly: I think everything’s going to happen for you, Merton, sooner than you think.

The British director, Iain Softley, was rather young; he brings a fresh perspective. The cinematographer, Eduardo Serra, hails from Portugal; he went on to work on Girl with a Peal Earring, Unbreakable, and Blood Diamond. The music was composed by Edward Shearmur (a Brit); this is a crucial component and never goes over-the-top. The screenplay is terrific; it was written by Hossein Amini (a Brit of Iranian heritage). There is an intense chemistry btwn Bonham-Carter and Roache; you see their (often sad/troubled) reactions in their eyes. Elliott (a former model) does a good job for a relative newcomer; she brings in lightness/innocence to the trio.

Merton: My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove for then I would fly away and be at rest.”

The story was moved up from 1902 to 1910, in part at the suggestion of the costume designer, Sandy Powell. Fashion evolved much btwn those 8 yrs; Powell felt that the 1910 silhouette would help set this movie apart from those made by Merchant-Ivory Productions. Bonham-Carter’s 1st feature film was A Room with a View (1985) by Merchant-Ivory. Powell earned her an Oscar nom for Best Costume Design, but lost to Titanic. You can watch this movie on Pluto TV (free)!

We went into that with our eyes open. We had no qualms. We felt it was essential in indicating the sort of scene it was, and making it relevant and familiar in the most stark way possible. -Iain Softley, on the added love scene (NOT in the novel) at end of film

[1] Hossein Amini received an Oscar nomination for the film’s script, and it is not hard to see why. It is a literate, deliciously dark and beautifully nuanced script that is never devoid of emotion, and adapts very difficult source material remarkably cleverly and with utmost coherence.

[2] Helena Bonham-Carter, in the pinnacle of her career, embodies the fierce intelligence and ruthless determination of Kate Croy, a woman born in a wrong era, whose effort to hold on to both love and wealth tragically backfires. Linus Roache, playing Kate’s secret love, brings tortured Merton Densher (where does James come up with these names?) vividly to life. He has the sort of intense good looks and physical presence required for this role in spades; and his dramatic ability shines though, especially in his last scene with Millie…

[3] One character says of Kate, “There’s something going on behind those beautiful lashes,” and that can usually be said of the characters Bonham-Carter plays… Here, she’s completely engaged, and she pulls off the difficult trick of never losing our sympathies even when her character does something despicable.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Lady Macbeth” (2016) starring Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, & Naomi Ackie

Rural England, 1865. Katherine is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, whose family are cold and unforgiving. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her, so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. -Synopsis

In the north of England, a young woman named Katherine (Florence Pugh) is sold into marriage (along w/ some land) to a middle-aged man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton- a character/theater actor). Sadly, there is no love or even common kindness involved here; this marriage was arranged by Boris Lester (Christopher Fairbank), Alexander’s domineering father. Katherine is prevented from leaving the house. Boris scolds her for not giving Alexander a son, but her husband doesn’t even touch her! One day, both men have to leave the estate for separate business matters, leaving Katherine alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie- also in an early role). Finally, Katherine is free to explore the area to alleviate her boredom!

This indie film (streaming on MUBI) is based on the Russian book Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov. I learned that iFeatures is a collab btwn the BBC and the BFI; every year, they produce 3 feature films for £350,000 as a stepping stone for 1st time directors. Lady Macbeth (directed by William Oldroyd) was chosen out of over 300 applicants- wow! It was filmed over 24 days on location at Lambton Castle, County Durham and Northumberland, UK. Shaheen Baig was the casting director on Florence Pugh’s 1st film, The Falling (2014); when the script came her way, she suggested Pugh (then just 19 y.o) to Oldroyd.

I loved the fact she was naked all the time. At that point in my life, I had been made to feel sh*t about what I looked like and that film was perfect. There was no room for me to feel insecure. -Florence Pugh, in an interview (ES Magazine)

This is a V dark tale; the first 35 mins. are quite slow and NOT much happens (w/ little dialogue); the next 45 mins. is an unbridled (and often) violent trip! There is almost no music to be heard. The setting is oppressive, the tone is foreboding, and there are bursts of violence (which will be quite jarring esp. to sensitive viewers). Unlike most period dramas you may be familiar w/, this film uses colorblind casting. Ackie is a Black woman from the UK w/ Caribbean roots, Cosmo Jarvis (Sebastian- the horse groomer) is of British/Armenian heritage from the US, and Golda Rosheuvel (most recently Queen Charlotte in Bridgerton) is a British biracial woman. The acting is quite effective, esp. from Pugh (mature beyond her years); I wanted to see more of Ackie’s character (as she does a fine job also). Ackie (only early 30s) went on to work on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. She plays the lead in Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody.

[1] The film seems to be a pre-feminism manifesto for women’s rights. […]

The interesting thing is how Katherine evolves from victim to culprit. She seems to have learned from her husband how to use and misuse power. The lack of social conscience of which she at first is a victim, becomes a driving force for her own behaviour.

[2] Lady Macbeth features a mesmerising and beguiling performance from Florence Pugh. It is far away from these slushy chocolate box romantic period dramas. Katherine is steel edged and deadly.

[3] Several archetypal themes arise in this somber, artfully-photographed drama. For instance, one that emphasizes the wages of sin is prominent; another about the subjugated rising against the oppressor; and another about the danger of socially imprisoning smart women in a paternalistic society. A leitmotif also surfaces about the dangers of debilitating class distinctions, which are never a good thing in the long haul.

Ari Wegner’s cinematography is portrait-like if considering only the recurring shot of Katherine sitting on her Victorian couch in a consuming dress that seems to deteriorate with each similar shot. Underneath the dress is the corset, so long a symbol of the era’s tight hold on women.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Passionate Friends” (1949) starring Ann Todd, Trevor Howard, & Claude Rains

Steven: Do you remember once, I asked you how you could love me and yet marry someone else?

Mary: Yes, I remember.

Steven: Your marriage was bound to be a failure.

Hide your wives when Trevor Howard is near- LOL! I heard about this film on a podcast just 2 wks ago; it is one of the fave classics of critic Angelica Jade Bastien. It’s based on the 1913 novel The Passionate Friends by H. G. Wells (who is more known for his sci-fi work). The film was directed by David Lean; he made Brief Encounter (1945) which co-starred Trevor Howard. Many critics/viewers have commented that this tale expands on the themes of Brief Encounter (and we get to see the POV of the husband).

Mary: I’m not a very good person, Steven. I wanted your love – and I wanted Howard’s affection and the security he could give me.

Steven: I can give you security too, and more than affection.

Mary: You don’t really know me at all. My love isn’t worth very much.

This emotional, intelligent, and visually interesting classic film is told through flashbacks. The first is when the two lovers are single and committed to each other. Somehow they broke up and went their separate ways. Several years later, Mary (Ann Todd) is married to a wealthy/older banker, Howard Justin (Claude Rains), when she meets Steven again. They see each other for about a week, then Howard (returning from a business trip) finds out re: their affair. Despite hints to the contrary, Mary decides to stay w/ her husband! Now (9 yrs. later), Mary and Steven (now an accomplished professor) meet by chance at a resort in the Swiss Alps. Steven has (finally) married and has two young kids. They spend a day together (boating, hiking, and a picnic). Unexpectedly, Howard arrives back at the hotel early to find that his wife is out. He is furious when he sees Mary with Steven; Howard is determined to divorce her and name Steven as the co-respondent (possibly ruining his life)!

Film is a dramatized reality and it is the director’s job to make it appear real… an audience should not be conscious of technique.

I think people remember pictures not dialogue. That’s why I like pictures.

I like making films about characters I’d like to have dinner with.

Always cast against the part and it won’t be boring.

-Quotes from David Lean re: filmmaking

Who said Brits don’t know romance!? I esp. liked the scenes in Steven’s apt. when they have a lunch (which he cooks); it’s a cute/domestic situation. The book Mary finds on Steven’s shelf and reads from is Patterns of Culture (1934) by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948), an American anthropologist/folklorist. It is the first book from which Mary and Steven quote after dinner (“In the beginning, God gave to every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life.”) The second book that they quote from (“From the music they love you should know the texture of men’s souls.”) is taken from English novelist/playwright John Galsworthy’s The Man of Property (1906), the first in a series of three novels and two interludes comprising the The Forsyte Saga (1922). The actual quote is: “By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men’s souls.”

What sets this film apart is that it also has empathy for the husband in the love triangle (which you rarely get to see)! Rains does a fine job (as usual), BUT he gets to show his romantic side. Mr. Justin knows he’s in a marriage of convenience, then he finds himself falling in love w/ his wife (which he didn’t expect). Also, he has an important job which requires him to travel often; sometimes Ann goes along. He also has a personal secretary, Miss Layton (Betty Ann Davies); she sees some of the drama (real, yet awkward). We get to see a woman’s POV (get inside her head); this is rare for a classic film! There are several moments when the camera lingers on Todd’s face, spending extra time on her thinking/emotions. Todd (in her early 40s) has great chemistry w/ Howard (who is charming and warm). Her hairdos and variety of outfits are V classy/beautiful. The music really suits the movie. Check this movie out!

“The Remains of the Day” (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson

There’s nothing to being a butler, really; when you’re in the room, it should be even more empty. -Cyril Dickman, former butler (for 50 yrs) at Buckingham Palace

In pre-WWII England, the duty-bound head butler at Darlington House, Stevens (Anthony Hopkins- age 55 and at the top of his game), meets his (potential) match in a young housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson- just 33 and already quite accomplished). Stevens oversees a staff of over 30 servants; Miss Kenton is second-in-charge (though she isn’t afraid to stand up to him when he is wrong). Stevens’ elderly father (Peter Vaughn, best known for Game of Thrones) works as an under-butler, though he is in failing health. The young nephew of Lord Darlington (James Fox), Mr. Cardinal (Hugh Grant), worries that his uncle is making the wrong decisions. (Grant once stated that this movie was the best one that he ever made.) Leaders from various nations gather at the house for an important conference, incl. the American senator, Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve- a fine performance and looking gorgeous). The possibility of love and his master’s involvement w/ the cause of appeasement (w/ the Nazis) challenge Stevens’ orderly little world, as well as the world-at-large!

...as a bit like a priest who puts his life almost on an altar. He serves his lord unconditionally, and in this case, his lord is literally a Lord (Darlington). Perhaps it’s a mentality that we don’t know so well in the United States, except in the military, or indeed, in the priesthood. Within Stevens’ life there is a very, very small area that is his, and the rest of the time he belongs to, or is committed to, a larger idea, or ideal: that of unquestioning service to an English aristocrat: his master, right or wrong. -James Ivory, director (describing Stevens)

Stevens is a devoted man. He’s very conscientious of his duties, but he never wants to express himself too loudly. He has been trained since birth to know his place, never to speak out. That is one of the things which is sad about the film. Stevens has lost the opportunity in life. He wanted Miss Kenton, but he never could come to express his feelings to her. If you are not ready to express yourself or grab the moment, you lose out. -Ismail Merchant, producer

Did you know that many of the individuals who contributed to this film are outsiders to British high society? The author of the source novel, Kazuo Ishiguro, was born in Japan and raised in England by his immigrant parents. As a young man in his 20s, he traveled across the US, w/ the dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. Director James Ivory is an American known for his calm demeanor and low-key style. Ismail Merchant (his partner in work and life) hailed from India; he was known for his outgoing personality. Their frequent collaborator/screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a German-born/Jewish Brit who married an Indian man and lived most of her life in India. She also wrote the screenplays for A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992)- which also starred Hopkins and Thompson. Hopkins is from a small town in Wales (where his idol-turned-mentor, Richard Burton, also grew up). Reeve is American, though he attended college/trained for several years in England.

Stevens: …a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one’s employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature.

This movie was nominated for 8 Oscars incl. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium, Best Original Music Score, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (but it didn’t win in any of these categories)! John Cleese was offered the role of Stevens and loved Ishiguro’s novel. He withdrew after Harold Pinter (the first screenwriter) “took the humor out.” Anjelica Huston was being considered for Miss Kenton; Meryl Streep wanted the role, but didn’t get it (a rare case)! Jeremy Irons had also been considered for a part in this movie (I’m assuming Lord Darlington). Look for young/Irish actress Lena Headey (Cersei on Game of Thrones) as a maid who falls in love w/ the head footman, Charlie (Ben Chaplin).

Lewis: You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you’re headed for disaster!

I saw this movie a few times as a teen w/ my family; we tended to watch more drama than comedy (even when young). FYI: My parents lived 7 years in England in the 1970s (where I was born). I’m definitely an anglophile, as some of you have already noticed from this blog (as well as my tweets). Though this is mainly a story of unrequited love, on my recent re-watch, I noticed the importance of politics. After all, we (in U.S.) just had an “amateur” go into politics (which Sen. Lewis warned against); he even become president in 2016! Just b/c Lord Darlington had class privilege and wealth, he assumed he was better suited to make decisions than common men. In one of the deleted scenes, Lord Darlington even commented to Stevens that “democracy won’t work in England.” Compare that w/ the scene in the pub (in the final act), where an opinionated/working-class man declares: “I think any man in England has the right to be called a gentleman.”

The British Government was trying to keep England on an even keel, so that they would not have to go back to war. World War I was a terrible tragedy for that country, and no one wanted to face a war of that sort again. Historically, it seems now to have been a fruitless and dangerous kind of appeasement of a proven dictator, but a generation of young Englishmen had been recently decimated by the Germans, so it’s not surprising that figures in the British government in the late thirties tried to reason with Hitler. -James Ivory, director (on Naziism and WWII aspects of the movie)

In the 1930s, Stevens was proud to serve his Master’s cause. As the years pass, and new, more accurate information becomes available, Stevens’ pride diminishes. Lord Darlington is used as a pawn by the Nazis, because he yields to a common aristocratic urge to contribute something large to the world. He is somebody who starts off with very good and noble impulses, but because of a certain kind of naiveté, which almost all of us would share, he becomes a pawn. -Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novel

There is some terrific acting here, from both Hopkins and Thompson; they’d previously played a romantic pair in Howard’s End (which I haven’t seen in many years). They seem to genuinely like and respect each other also IRL. The key to Stevens is restraint, though he probably feels deeply (you just see it in his eyes). Miss Kenton eventually reveals her emotions; Stevens can’t express himself to her (sadly). In the tense/pivotal scene in Stevens’ study, Miss Kenton asks re: what book he is reading. She questions/teases him until he backs himself into a dark corner. In perhaps a (masculine/penetrative) move, Miss Kenton enters Stevens’ personal space and takes the book from his hands. Their faces are very close, but (alas) there is no kiss! Some critics/viewers have wondered what exactly Miss Kenton sees in Stevens. Perhaps he is attractive b/c he is unapproachable (hard to get)?

“The Object of Beauty” (1991) starring John Malkovich & Andie MacDowell

A romantic comedy about the fine art of thievery. -Tag line

Two Americans living the good life in London find their romantic relationship challenged by a sudden lack of funds. Jake (John Malkovich), a commodities broker, is unable to pay the bills (b/c of a strike that holds up a cocoa shipment). So, he suggests that Tina (Andie MacDowell) file an insurance claim on her little Henry Moore statue. This statue is the only item of value that she owns- her sense of security. One day, the statue suddenly disappears from their posh hotel room! They are begin to doubt each other and the strength of their love.

Tina: You’ve always said when it comes to food, shoes, and sex, price is no object.

Jake: Good shoes are important!

I cam across this on IMDB TV when I was looking for movies w/ John Malkovich (after seeing Dangerous Liaisons). The writer/director is an American, Michael Lindsay Hogg, who worked on music videos, TV (incl. Brideshead Revisited), as well as movies. Tina’s best friend, Jenny (Lolita Davidovich), is also American; she was married to Cint Eastwood and is the mother of Scott Eastwood. The hotel’s investigator Victor Swayle (Bill Paterson) goes on a little power trip. Paterson is a veteran character actor who recently appeared as the father in the hit TV show- Fleabag.

Jake: I am on the verge of something very lucrative, so for you to even be talking about dishonoring one of my checks, really puts me in a very sweaty mode.

The statue is taken by the deaf/mute hotel maid- Jenny (Rudi Davies). She knows this is wrong to do, but later explains that the statue “spoke to me.” Jenny (only in her 20s) lives in a tiny flat w/ her teen brother (who is in danger of becoming a criminal). As some viewers noted, Jenny is at the heart of the story and the only likeable character. It’s also rare to see a (working-class) person have a well-developed arc in a movie.

This movie is for those of you who enjoy character development and quirky humor. There is fun chemistry between Malkovich (who loves fashion) and MacDowell (who looks great in all the fashions as a former model); they joke around and seem to have fun together. If you like fashion, you may notice the Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes. Siskel and Ebert both liked this movie (two thumbs up). I really liked the ending- it was sweet and funny!

[1] The film is an underhanded, cynical, satirical poke at American materialism…

[2] The chemistry between the two of them reminds one of William Powell and Myrna Loy. If they had picked up the pace a bit, they would have had a real classic comedy here. This film is highly watchable, though.

[3] My favorite not-to-be-missed extremely funny scene? John Malkovich’s “Jake”, in a moment of depressed exasperation, talking aloud to himself composing his own obituary.

[4] You will enjoy this film much more if you pay attention to the irony of the value placed by different characters upon this Henry Moore sculpture. It is worth nothing to some, only money to others, an emotional commitment to another, and an object of aspiration to one other. All of these perspectives speak to each other, and it is a very interesting conversation.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews