The Golden Bowl
Producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory's latest literary adaptation, a detailed re-telling of Henry James' The Golden Bowl, opens with unusual melodramatic flair: A 16th-century Italian duke sends his new young wife and his son to the guillotine when he catches them canoodling. The saga of the unfortunate duchess and her lover is part of the colorful heritage of the charming Prince Amerigo (a glowing Jeremy Northam), who, impoverished in the early 20th century, relates it as a point of interest in the tours he must offer of his crumbling Italian castle to make a living. Amerigo wants to marry his equally destitute but ravishing lover, American expatriate Charlotte Stant (the ever-catlike Uma Thurman), but Charlotte soon realizes they must seek their futures apart, yet in due time finds herself reunited with Amerigo in an unexpected fashion. Cited by James as his favorite novel, The Golden Bowl--adapted by Merchant-Ivory's stalwart collaborator, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala--is rife with the details of an era that, for all its repression, was drowning in excess. As always with James, the edges of "good" and "evil" blur together into an unsettling ambiguity that is as capable as any action movie of thrilling and chilling the blood.