For nearly two months now, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas. (I know that I originally said that I would be reviewing 126 films in 3 weeks but, even at the time I said that, I think a part of me knew that it would probably be more like 8 or 9 weeks.) And, while it seems like forever since I started this series by reviewing the 1927 silent classic Sunrise, I’ve still been having fun discovering and rewatching some wonderful films. It’s been a lot of work but if I’ve inspired anyone to see any of the 93 films that I’ve reviewed so far, then it’s all been worth it.
For our 94th entry, let’s take a quick look at the 1997 film The Wings of the Dove.
Based on a novel by Henry James, The Wings of the Dove open in London. The year is 1910 and Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) has problems. Her mother has recently died and her father (Michael Gamon) is a penniless opium addict. Kate is taken in and supported by her wealthy Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling). Maude has plans for Kate to marry the vapid Lord Mark (Alex Jennings) and demands that Kate have no contact with either her father or any of her old friends.
Among those that Kate is supposed to abandon is a journalist named Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Kate and Merton are in love but there’s no way that Maude would ever allow them to get married. Merton is not only poor but he’s a bit of a radical as well.
While visiting with Lord Mark, Kate meets an American heiress named Milly (Alison Elliott). As open and kind as Kate is cynical and manipulate, Milly is touring Europe. Milly and Kate quickly become friends and Milly goes as far as to invite Kate to go to Venice with her. It’s also through her friendship with Kate that Milly first meets Merton. Attracted to him and unaware of her relationship with Kate, Milly invites him to come to Venice as well.
Kate, meanwhile, has discovered that Milly is terminally ill. She comes up with a scheme, in which Merton will romance Milly. Kate is convinced that Milly will then change her will to include Merton. Once Milly dies, Merton will be rich and then Maude will have no reason to object to him marrying Kate.
At first, Merton is repulsed by the scheme but he finally agrees, specifically so that he can go to Venice with Kate. However, once they’re all actually in Venice, things start to get complicated. Merton starts to fall in love with Milly and Kate discovers that she loves Merton more than she originally realized…
The Wing of the Dove is an effective literary adaptation, one that brings a contemporary spin to the material while still remaining truthful to the spirit of the source material. The costumes and the sets are beautiful to look at and Venice is as wonderfully romantic and cinematic as always. Linus Roache is a bit of a stiff as Merton (but then again, the same could be said for the character himself) but it doesn’t matter because the film is dominated by Helena Bonham Carter’s ferocious performance in the role of Kate. She plays Kate as a bundle of nervous energy and barely repressed carnality, an Edwardian femme fatale. She was rightfully nominated for best actress for her performance in this film. The award, however, went to Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets.
(This, along with the complete snubbing of Boogie Nights, would seem to suggest that 1997 was not a banner year as far as the Academy Awards were concerned…)
The Wings of the Dove is currently available to be viewed on Netflix. Don’t miss it.