The Golden Bowl

Director:James Ivory
Writer:Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Lions Gate Films; R; 130 minutes
Cast:Kate Beckinsale, Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte

The eloquent and elliptical upper-class syntax of Henry James finds companionship in the stuffy and voluptuous costume dramas of the Merchant-Ivory production team. The film version of his novel, The Golden Bowl, constitutes their best work in years. The title refers to a finely wrought object d'art with a barely visible, fatal flaw. Repeat references drive home its symbolic import with the subtlety of a truck. This golden bowl figures in the lives of lovers Charlotte and Amerigo (Uma Thurman and Jeremy Northam). Charlotte is an poor expat; Amerigo's a penniless prince engaged to Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale). Maggie's considerable riches come from her father's mining empire. Soon after Charlotte arrives for Amerigo's wedding, she becomes engaged to magnate Adam Verver (Nick Nolte), father-in-law to her (allegedly) former beau.

James' source novel is a dense affair marked by slow-moving layers of significance. Even in Merchant-Ivory's hands, the storyline gains a more explicit, pop edge, but they render this turn-of-the-century drama convincingly. Kate Beckinsale and Nick Nolte stand out as the father-daughter pair muddied by their spouses' affair and encroaching modernity. The Golden Bowl presents strong, emotional drama sure to please to period-piece fans.