The Wings of the Dove (15)

Directed by Iain Softley
Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliot, Alex Jennings, Charlotte Rampling, Elizabeth McGovern

I am sure many people would see the ingredients of Helena Bonham Carter, a Henry James novel, and the words costume drama as an etirely predictable dish. All that seems to be missing is the Merchant Ivory tag. However, they would be pleasantly surprised, as I was, by this film. Set in 1910 in London and Venice, and featuring pretty people in nice clothes, this is a highly attractive movie, but what is more surprising is the complex web of relationships between original and interesting characters.
Bonham Carter is Kate, whose dissolute father(Michael Gambon as compelling as ever in a too brief cameo) has abdicated responsibility for her. Instead, she is under the guardianship of her severe aunt(Rampling), who is planning a nice arranged marriage to Lord Mark(Jennings), who is rather fond of the booze. Kate has a secret lover, Merton(Roache), but as a working journalist, he is not up to her aunt's standard. Into this comes a young American girl Millie(Elliot). She and Kate strike up a friendship and after a chance meeting she takes a shine to Merton. So the threesome move onto Venice together and Kate hatches a plot to marry Merton off to the dying Millie. However, it isn't as simple as that- and the events and their consequences have repercussions for Kate and Merton.
The motives and actions of the characters are nicely shown. Kate is beautifully played by Bonham Carter as a selfish manipulator, or maybe just a desperate young woman. She is the schemer, but she is no one dimensional villain. Initially she is our guide, the character we sympathise with, and even when her actions become questionable, we are torn between disliking her and admiring her initiative. The ambiguity is what makes her intriguing and real. Linus Roache and Alison Elliot have more straight forward roles. Roache -looking alarmingly like his father at times- is suitably tortured by the events of the film and his fatal attraction to Kate, but I found him rather dull to be the inspiration of such passion from the two women. Elliot's character Millie is just a bit too good to be true- so loving and sweet to everyone. It is the triangle of relationships that are the root of the film. The initial relationship between the two women, Kate and Merton's uneasy, demanding love, the growing feelings between Merton and Millie and Kate's reaction to that keep the attention.
Also worth metioning is the wonderful supporting cast. It is especially nice to see Elizabeth McGovern back in the role of Millie's companion. Rampling is perfect as the icy Aunt, Jennings is suitably dodgy as the untrustworthy Lord. However, top marks should go to the script writers and director Iain Softley. A beatifully crafting and engaging film that is more like Les Liaison Dangereus than Room With a View, a examination of the complexities of passion and love, machiavellian plotting and living with the consequences. A stand out scene is the closing nude scene between Kate and Merton right at the end of the film. The nudity is entirely appropriate as it emphasises the characters' weakness and vulnerability.
Additional plaudits to Helena Bonham Carter who must have been wary of another frock film, but this really is a character a million miles from her ingenue roles of a few years back. She is excellent in this far more challenging role. She has been tipped for awards, and I certainly wouldn't argue. An absorbing film, definitely worth seeing. 8/10.

January 1998

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