The Golden Bowl

on April 27, 2001 by BOXOFFICE Staff
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   You can count on the Merchant/Ivory label for literate, highbrow, impressively costumed, lavishly beautiful films, and in these aims "The Golden Bowl," an adaptation of Henry James' novel, succeeds. But this story about impossible love and social propriety is nowhere near as good as their best works, specifically "Remains of the Day," "Howards End" and "A Room With a View." Producer, director and frequent collaborator Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala have teamed together previously to adapt Henry James' "The Europeans" and "The Bostonians"; they have a harder time with this sprawling, heavy drama that nevertheless pleases the eye even as it tries the patience.

   Leaving their secret love affair in the past, destitute Italian prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) and American socialite Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman) part company. Amerigo is slated to wed Charlotte's friend, the well-to-do London-based Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale), who is as naive and trusting as Charlotte is cunning. Only days before the wedding, Charlotte takes Amerigo to help her select a gift for Maggie. What they find--but do not buy--is a crystal and gold encrusted goblet, the titular golden bowl.

   Though she can't have Amerigo, Charlotte inveigles her way into the family by impressing Maggie's affluent, mild-mannered father Adam (Nick Nolte) enough to elicit a marriage proposal. Though he claims to be disinterested, months of flirtation erode Amerigo's resistance. He eventually yields to Charlotte's overtures, culminating in a passionate night together in an inn. Their absence from their respective spouses prompts nosy socialite Fanny (Anjelica Huston) to stir up intrigue and set the rumor mill into motion. Adam and Maggie refuse to believe the gossip, but when that same golden bowl turns up years later along with some revealing information, it forces some ugly truths into plain view.

   "The Golden Bowl" contains all the ingredients of a great love story, but it just can't seem to blend them to create the desired result. A significant problem is posed by the fact that Thurman and Northam appear to have very little chemistry, and Northam is saddled with an overdone Italian accent. Nolte and Beckinsale, meanwhile, do fine work in more psychologically demanding, subtler parts. With its broad scope, double-couple structure and the heroine's dogged pursuit of unrequiting lover who is, frankly, bland, the film feels at times like a pale homage to "Gone With the Wind." But Charlotte Stant is a long, long way from Scarlett O'Hara. Starring Uma Thurman, Jeremy Northam, Nick Nolte, Anjelica Huston and Kate Beckinsale. Directed by James Ivory. Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Produced by Ismail Merchant. A Lions Gate release. Period drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 137 min

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