Embracing the Melodrama Part II #94: The Wings of the Dove (dir by Ian Softley)

Wings_of_the_dove_ver1For 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.


Embracing the Melodrama Part II #61: Home Before Midnight (dir by Pete Walker)

-Home_Before_Midnight-_DVD_coverIf there’s any director who deserves to be rediscovered and be given a critical reevaluation, it’s … well, I was going to say that it’s Pete Walker but honestly, I’ve only seen a handful of Walker’s films.  And really, my admiration of Walker as a filmmaker is largely due to one film, 1974’s Frightmare.  So, I’ll just say that, based on Frightmare, Walker might deserve a critical reevaluation.

Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing Frightmare right now.  Instead, I’m taking a quick look at another Pete Walker film, 1979’s Home Before Midnight.

It’s going to be a quick look because there’s really not that much to say about Home Before Midnight.  The film opens with two 14 year-old girls hitchhiking.  Carol (Debbie Linden) is blonde and wild.  Ginny (Alison Elliott) is brunette and responsible.  They end up getting picked up by a truck driver who quickly decides that he’d rather just give a ride to Carol.  So, Carol and the driver drive off together and Ginny ends up alone and, once again, hitchhiking.  Eventually, Ginny is picked up by Mike (James Aubrey), a songwriter in his 30s.

Not realizing that Ginny is only 14 years old, Mike takes her back to his flat and they have sex.  Afterward, Mike discovers just how young Ginny is and tells her that they can be friends but that they can’t have sex because it’s illegal.  Ginny agrees.

And then Mike and Ginny end up having sex again anyway…

Anyway, as you can probably guess, things don’t go well as far as Mike and Ginny’s “romance” is concerned.  Though Ginny swears to her parents that she and Mike are just friends, her parents see Mike being interview on television, along with an unlikely rock star named Nick (Chris Jagger, far less charismatic brother of Mick).  When Mike is asked if he has a girlfriend, Nick announces that not only does Mike have a girl but her name is Ginny.  Soon, Ginny is moving on to boys her own age and Mike is on trial.

As someone whose first “serious” boyfriend was 9 years older than her and who has always appreciated a certain maturity in men, there were a few bits of Home Before Midnight to which I could relate.  Occasionally, the first part of the film even captures the excitement of having a secret and forbidden love.

But ultimately, the film just fails.  To put it lightly, Home Before Midnight is no An Education.  Instead, it’s a painfully boring film, one that pretends to examine a serious issue but then doesn’t even play fair.  We’re told that Ginny is 14 but the actress playing her was 20 and looked and acted like she was close to 30.  As well, about 90 minutes into the film, Ginny’s personality is totally changed, the better to portray Mike as somehow being a victim.  The film makes so many excuses for Mike and the camera spends so much time lingering on Ginny’s frequent naked body (and remember, Ginny is being played by a 20 year-old but is only supposed to be 14) that it actually becomes creepy to watch.

Ultimately, the most interesting thing about Home Before Midnight is the fact that it features Mick Jagger’s younger brother, Chris, in a supporting role.  Chris Jagger looks close enough to Mick that you would guess that they were related.  But Chris has absolutely none of Mick’s charisma and it’s actually funny to hear Chris continually being described as being one of the biggest stars in the world.  Chris Jagger makes Justin Bieber look like Adam Levine.

If you still want to see this boring and creepy movie, it’s currently available on Netflix.  However, I would suggest that your time would be better spent watching any other Pete Walker film.