Volume 90, Issue 65

Tuesday, January 21, 1997



Campion's near-empty frame

Portrait of a Lady
Starring Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey
Directed by Jane Campion
At Capitol, 7 and 9:45 p.m.

Adapted from the Henry James novel of the same name, Portrait of a Lady follows the journey of Isabel Archer, played by Nicole Kidman, to find out who she really is. It is a journey that Kidman can't quite handle.

Isabel enters the film as a strong, independent woman, allowing not even a lucrative marriage proposal to stand in the way of her dreams. Yet by the end of the film, the viewer sees Isabel transform into the cold and confused product of hidden true love.

Award-winning director Jane Campion (The Piano) does not fail to impress the audience with her knack for knowing how to make a film beautiful. The breathtaking landscapes of Europe create a pallet for Campion to showcase her wonderful ability for lighting and cinematography. She captures the complex nature of the characters, especially Isabel and Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey, The Natural) through her use of shadows and mirrors.

Campion's aesthetic sense may be too great however, as the cinematography and lighting describe the characters more than the actors themselves.

This is most prevalent with the heroine, Isabel. Although Kidman's connection with the character seems to build throughout the film, she does not appear to really have a grasp of Isabel's struggle for self-fulfillment. The audience receives more hints of the vulnerable and duplicitous nature of Isabel through the extreme close-ups and contrasts between light and dark than through Kidman herself. Kidman also fails to provide chemistry with any of her four suitors, at least two of which she supposedly truly loves.

Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich) is the one suitor who wins Isabel's hand in marriage, though his motives are purely monetary. Malkovich has the ability to play the villain to the tee, though Osmond is more sinister than some of his previous roles (Dangerous Liaisons, In the Line of Fire) because of the nonchalance of his actions. Malkovich masters the evil yet sensual Osmond, but a connection between the two main characters is absent.

Barbara Hershey's portrayal of Madame Merle is hands-down the best performance of the film. Merle is torn between good and evil, even though she is constantly scheming to hurt Isabel. Hershey has captured the essence of the character and her performance is not overshadowed by the technical aspect of the film, but rather enhanced by it. The scenes involving both Hershey and Malkovich are disturbing and wonderful – their grasp of the relationship between Osmond and Merle is one of the best reasons to watch the film.

On a whole, the cast does not interact well with one another on the screen. Much of the film is difficult to watch and at times becomes a little boring. The plot is not developed enough and the audience is left with uncertainty regarding the characters involved. Even the ending leaves the viewer wondering what just happened.

However, Portrait of a Lady is a stunning film to watch, if only for its technical mastery. The film explores the dark depths of the human heart in a touching and realistic manner.

With Portrait of a Lady, the audience is left not wanting to review the film but read the book itself for more insight into the beautiful story and characters they have found in the film.

–Carey Franklin

Gazette file photo
YOU KNOW, IT TAKES ONLY 17 MUSCLES TO SMILE AND 48 TO FROWN. The unhappy Nicole Kidman stars in Portrait of a Lady

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca