And thank you, Henry James.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Wings of the Dove" is an invitation to visit a time when manipulation was the only tool available to a woman in the world of the aristocracy. In Henry James's London of 1910, a woman needed two things: money and an acceptable husband. How she got them, or failed to, determined the course of her life.

Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) is involved in a passionate affair with Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Indulging herself in the freedoms freshly bestowed on women by the new century, Kate is free to leave the house alone, to use the subway, to take a cab, and to make love with Merton in his flat; but marriage is unthinkable for the feisty young beauty and the principled idealist. Both are penniless.

Kate's Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling) has made it clear that she will finance Kate's passage through London society to an appropriate marriage. The choice of opulence and acceptability versus a life of penury with Merton is a classic Edwardian dilemma that will not derail the independent Kate. Fate hands her the solution: Millie (Alison Elliott), a rich young American with a terminal illness. Kate will lend Merton to Millie-an enrichment for her last months, a small investment with an enormous return: Millie's money.

Director Iain Softley lets his movie unfold slowly, Jamesian style, with no sub-plots to distract us from the emotions of the characters as they develop under the strain of Kate's cold-hearted plan. Is it cold-hearted? Or is it simply a smart maneuver in a closed society? Millie, after all, will not be hurt; she will know the joy of being loved. Merton will be doing the kindest of deeds by loving the dying woman. Kate will do them the kindness of leaving them alone in Venice, and after the inevitable death, Kate and Merton will begin their marriage on the bedrock of Millie's fortune.

Helena Bonham Carter gives Kate a warmth that rests on a bed of steel. Her scenes with Charlotte Rampling are marvels of determination versus power. Rampling is stunning to look at, entirely believable in the role of mentor in a society where success flows from clever moves.

Linus Roache is credible and appealing as an idealist worn down by passion. Is the fire of his idealism burned out, or merely banked? Roache and Bonham Carter deliver blazing chemistry, while Alison Elliott manages the tough task of being pure and innocent without reaching for the saccharine.

Mr. Softley has made sure that the emotions of his actors evolve. Neither their behavior nor their expressions telegraph judgment. So good is the acting, that their emotions become ours. In a movie wonderfully rooted in ambivalence, we must make up our own minds. It's not often a director credits an audience with intelligence. Welcome to the beauty of an old-fashioned love story set in the romantic landscapes of London and Venice. And thank you, Henry James.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 492
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h43m

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