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
 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.
 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…
 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