The Golden Bowl
- Uma Thurman as Charlotte Stant
- Jeremy Northam as Prince Amerigo
- Kate Beckinsale as Maggie Verver
- Nick Nolte as Adam Verver
- Anjelica Huston as Fanny Assingham
- James Fox as Colonel Bob Assingham
An adaptation of the Henry James novel brought to the screen by Merchant Ivory, The Golden Bowl is an elegantly mounted story of betrayal, adultery and love that is finely acted by a star-studded cast and filled with the right period touches you’d expect from a literary production like this.
It’s the turn of the century and Prince Amerigo is a charming but impoverished Italian prince, from a once noble family. Thankfully, he is engaged to the pretty Maggie Verver; an American heiress whose doting father Adam is a billionaire business tycoon whose work largely relates to the world of art. Yet into the pretty picture once the couple are married and have a baby son is Charlotte Stant, who is a friend of Maggie’s from school, but also the former lover of Amerigo. The couple, as we find out, had to part with one another due to both being poor, but the passionate Charlotte is still very much in love with Amerigo. None of this is known to Maggie, who is a sweet and green girl who thinks the best of everyone. Amerigo panics with Charlotte back in the frame and tries to dissuade her, but he himself can’t deny the fire that still burns intensely within him for her. The two resume their affair, while the driven Charlotte, in an attempt to be closer to him and also secure a comfortable lifestyle, marries the much older Adam. The pair believes that due to Maggie being extremely close to her father that their indiscretions will go unnoticed, which id not the case. Watching from the sidelines is society maven and matchmaker Fanny, who knows the secrets of all parties involved due to her eagle-eyed ways. But as betrayal rises and passions spill over, so do suspicions from Maggie and Adam that something is going on with their spouses. What consequences will emerge due to the intertwined relationships?
The work of Henry James is renowned for at times being difficult to transfer to the screen, but with the talents of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on board, The Golden Bowl makes for a dazzling film. James Ivory as director loses none of the scathing indictments that Henry James so often focused on, instead bringing out the deceit and treachery with subtle touches and foreshadowing. The symbolism of the eponymous bowl is a great metaphor for the seemingly ideal but cracked underneath unions as the bowl looks so splendid, but has a flaw when one looks closely upon it. Another excellently written script from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala contributes to the intelligence of the story and the ways that little phrases of dialogue and exchanges can have an extremely big impact on the overall events swirling. Threats and observations from characters are made but hidden behind a veneer of polite society as manipulations begin to figure heavily. Social standing and fortune do come into the story, but The Golden Bowl is much more concerned with the complexities of the heart and the cruel side of human nature when desire comes into play, which it explores magnificently and with assurance. There are a few times when the pace falters during the running time, but that flaw can easily be forgiven due to the engaging and intelligent work on display. A visual style of opulence is employed and contains some stunning pieces, particularly a dance recital of Arabian Nights that also doubles as an expression of the passion and secrets being guarded by everyone. A grand score imbues the film with a passionate core while highlighting the dangerous and manipulative treachery carried out by many of the characters in the name love and station.
One of the biggest draws from The Golden Bowl is the utterly splendid and distinguished cast it has. Making a huge impact is Uma Thurman as the driven and willful Charlotte, whose desire to be with Amerigo and her emotional slips that threatens to bring down the tidy house of cards he has built with Maggie. Any other actress would probably have made Charlotte very villainous, but Uma Thurman wisely plays her as definitely manipulative and sly, yet still with a deep sense of desolation and obsession that can’t be stopped. Jeremy Northam in the part of the impoverished but charming Amerigo shines too; revealing a man caught right in the middle of two women and unable to resist the temptation of the temperamental Charlotte, despite his conscience. Kate Beckinsale is equally as good portraying the initially naive and almost childlike Maggie. Yet once Maggie gets an inkling of something untoward going on, Beckinsale magnificently charts her emergence from the innocent victim to steely and quietly ruthless survivor with conviction. It was good to see Nick Nolte in this film making his character of the gentlemanly Adam appealing, yet laced with the feeling that you wouldn’t want to cross the man with your life. Clearly having an absolute ball in The Golden Bowl is a delightful Anjelica Huston who stars as the meddling matchmaker Fanny, who knows exactly where to put her loyalties and when to play her cards right. Fanny is one of the supporting characters, but Anjelica Huston’s work brings memorability to the character. James Fox is quite amusing as Fanny’s husband, who is a jolly man who leaves matters of the heart and intrigue to his wife, but is still protective to save any bother for her.
With eloquence and subtlety, The Golden Bowl emerges as an underrated film from Merchant Ivory, that more than deserves to be better known due to its compelling story, visual splendour and first-rate performances.