This period piece by Polish director Agnieszka Holland is one of her most successful Hollywood ventures. It’s the second film adaptation of the Henry James novel, but strikes a very different, more feminist and acutely observed, note than William Wyler’s The Heiress, its gaudy 1949 predecessor.
Catherine (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the plain and socially awkward daughter of wealthy Dr Austin Sloper (Albert Finney). Sloper came into his fortune by marrying a rich woman whose death giving birth to Catherine has permanently embittered him against her.
The young woman grows up in pre-Civil War Manhattan convinced of her unattractiveness and lack of any prospects, marital or otherwise. She is looked after by her widowed Aunt Lavinia, played by Maggie Smith as if she was born to the role, who is the doctor’s sister but in contrast to him is incurably romantic. Catherine is devoted to her father and craves his affection; he in turn treats her as a kind of useful but uninteresting domestic servant.
Into this bleak scene arrives the dashing and well-bred but impoverished Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), who meets Catherine at a party and in short order sweeps her off her feet. Under the influence of this unexpected passion, in which she receives support from her flighty aunt, Catherine’s personality and sense of self-worth visibly blossom.
Dr Sloper, however, is implacably opposed to the match. He is convinced, as someone who himself was once in the same position, that Morris is a fortune-hunter with no real interest in the daughter he views with such disdain. But is the doctor being honest in his motive for rejecting Morris? There is an unspoken awareness that the challenge to his position of absolute dominance over his daughter must also be a factor.
Catherine is thrust into the uncomfortable position of having to navigate between the force of her attraction to Morris and her filial obligations to her father. She knows it’s possible her father might be right, even if for the wrong reasons, but at the same time she owes it to herself not to throw away this opportunity to make her own life…
David Armstrong in the San Francisco Examiner wrote:
The eternal triangle – love, money and duplicity – frames director Agnieszka Holland’s stylish and ultimately moving film…Although set in upper-crust Manhattan in the 1850s, the story could be set anywhere, anytime people covet wealth and status enough to lie for it.
Bob Satuloff in FilmJournal International wrote:
Washington Square is painstakingly produced, dramatically compelling, and acted with skill and intensity…What gives [it] its contemporary resonance is its framing as a coming-of-age story. It’s obvious early on that Catherine is going to suffer terribly at the hands of her father, the man she loves, and the companion who lives through her vicariously. Whether she’ll emerge from the wreckage with dignity and peace of mind or become a bitter, defeated victim is the question that drives the movie and imbues it with power.
1.42GB | 1 h 55 min | 710×383 | mkv