This 1993 film, directed by Martin Scorsese, brings the Edith Wharton novel to life.
Here it is — all the social comment and smoldering unrequited passions originally
intended by the author. And now it’s in living color with academy award winning costume
design reflecting New York society in the 1870s.
Daniel-Day Lewis is cast as Newland Archer, the upper class young man in conflict
between social convention and desire. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the Countess Ellen Olenska,
who has already defied convention by marrying a European and is further defying
convention by leaving her husband and returning to New York. However, in spite of his
attraction to the countess, Newland Archer marries the beautiful but seemingly simple
May Welland, played by Wynona Ryder, whose outstanding performance won her an academy
The film is woven together by the excellent off-screen narration by Joanne Woodward,
reading excerpts from the book describing the nuances of social behavior and unspoken
thoughts of the characters. The entire package comes across as a small masterpiece. I
loved the book, but there is nothing like actually seeing the ballrooms, the gowns, the
dinnerware and the food. There is nothing like seeing how very subtle gestures of a glance,
a raised eyebrow or a change in tone of voice can have so much meaning. And there is one
scene in which Newland Archer struggles with the buttons of the Countess’s glove that
captures an erotic sensuality in a very special way.
However, a book can be read over many days or weeks. It can be put down and thought about,
the characters carried in the mind’s eyes for a while. The subtleties and nuances have time
to live with the reader. A film, however, must be watched all at once. And watching subtleties
and nuances for a full 133 minutes can tend to be a bit boring. But film is film and a book is
a book. It is not fair to judge them against each other. So keeping that in mind, I give this
video an extremely high recommendation.
Review by Linda Linguvic.