By William Wolf

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH  Send This Review to a Friend

It is gratifying to report that "The House of Mirth," written and directed by Terence Davies, has been adapted from Edith Wharton's celebrated novel with general fidelity to her story and concept. This is not only an intelligent literary shift to the screen but an affecting one that immerses us in another period and informs us of what women of a certain class had to face in trying to live up to what was expected of them or attempting to go their own way. Either choice was fraught with problems and peril.

Gillian Anderson, known for her "X-Files" television work, seems offhand like an unusual choice to play Lily Bart, Wharton's troubled heroine, but it turns out that Anderson has given one of the best performances of the year 2000.Visually she is splendid as Lily, and as an actress, she consistently conveys the various sides of Lilly's personality and sensibilities. In New York of the early part of the 20th century, Lily as a young socialite is trapped between trying to live up to what is expected of her, mainly making the right marriage of standing, and following her heart in the hope of finding a marriage based on love. She also is stalwart about maintaining her integrity no matter the price.

There is one romantic possibility in lawyer Lawrence Seldon, played with exactly the right mix of charm and caution by Eric Stoltz. But despite the sparks between him and Lily, Seldon cannot make a marital commitment, nor can she. The two dance around each other emotionally, missing out on what night bring happiness if they could only each break loose from the controlling conventions. "The House of Mirth" is a heartbreaking tale, but it comes alive through dialogue worth listening to, period atmosphere and a strong, well chosen cast. Among the standouts, are Dan Aykroyd as the boorish businessman Gus Trenor, who blackmails and compromises Lily, Anthony LaPaglia as Sim Rosedale, who makes her a marriage proposition and later cruelly retracts it, and Laura Linney as Bertha Dorset, a socialite who uses Lily to cover her marital duplicity. The rest of the cast also shares in giving the drama credence.

The film is quite stylized and the conversation moves at a deliberate pace in harmony with the period nature of the work This may make the film seem unduly slow to some, but it adds to the overall care with which the filmmakers attempt to bring Wharton's novel to the screen rather than succumb to making it more breezily conversational and contemporary. "The House of Mirth" is a major accomplishment of adaptation that does justice to its source, thereby affording the opportunity for fresh cinematic pleasure culled from the pleasure of literature. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


[Film] [Theater] [Cabaret] [About Town] [Wolf]
[Special Reports] [Travel] [HOME]