The castles, the ornate rooms, the gilded ceilings. The delicate flower arrangements, the silver frames, the leather bound books. The gardens, even the graveled driveways, glisten as they are adored by the camera pans. Yes, itís a Merchant Ivory film to beat all Merchant Ivory films Ė The Golden Bowl. The credits say it stars Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Jeremy Northam and Kate Beckinsale, but the real stars of the show are the sets and the lighting.
Based on the Henry James novel and adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, The Golden Bowl opens so anxious to set the time (1903), the place, (Italy) and the location (the now neglected but once glorious palace handed down through generations to the current Prince Amerigo) there is no time for characterizations. Oh, we immediately know that Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) and Charlotte (Uma Thurman) are lovers too poor to be together so he must wed Maggie (Kate Beckinsale), the daughter of the very rich American Adam Verver (Nick Nolte). But there is so much information to impart and so much setting up to do, that we are never given a reason to sympathize with or relate in anyway to the one dimensional characters. And if there is any doubt to what is coming next, Richard Robbins music telegraphs it before the beautifully laced sheets are turned down or the stunning feathered hat is tilted.
Everyone is exquisitely costumed and beautifully lit, but net result is we donít know these people, have no reason to care about these people and so they never become real characters - it is always Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman and Jeremy Northam up there on the screen Ė not Adam Verver, Charlotte or Prince Amerigo. They are beautiful to look at, but when your eyes are constantly drawn from the actors to the stunning embroidery on the collar or the ornate silver vase, you know theyíve lost you. The actors, as talented as they are and Northam particularly is incredible, just canít compete with the sets and the script never gives them a fighting chance.
There are luscious featured performances by James Fox as Colonel Assingham and Anjelica Huston as his wife Fanny in parts much more rounded than those of the stars.
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