Washington Square

I still haven’t figured out why there’s an apparent necessity to transfer most of Henry James’s fiction to the screen, especially when it seems perfectly at home on the page. But in the mechanical run-through of the James oeuvre that’s been carried out in recent years by film companies stuck for ideas, this is the best English-speaking adaptation I’ve seennot nearly as good as The Innocents (1961), but still better to my taste than either Merchant-Ivory’s or Campion’s, not to mention a good many lesser lights. Directing a script by Carol Doyle, Agnieszka Holland coaxes a performance out of Jennifer Jason Leigh that’s less tic ridden and show-offy than usual, and veterans Albert Finney and Maggie Smith fare even better; the only serious mistake here is Ben Chaplin’s pointless impersonation of Montgomery Clift in The Heiress (a 1949 film based on the play derived from the same novella). The period flavor is charming and Holland’s feeling for the moral nuances seems fairly Jamesian; still, why exactly we need this movie when we already have the book is anybody’s guess. (JR)

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