DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The House of Mirth, A Room with a View


Title: The House of Mirth

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: UK, English

Running time: about 120 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company: Sony Pictures Classics; Merchant Ivory Films 

Director; Writer: based on novel by Edith Wharton


Cast: Gillian Anderson, Dan Akyroyd, Eric Stolz, Anthony LaPaglia

Technical:  Panavision, digital

Relevance to doaskdotell site: social class and individual self-concept

Review: The issue of social position and personal identity in relation to one’s own abilities and others is well-explored in the period piece, The House of Mirth, set in New York City before World War I but actually filmed in Scotland, and based on a novel by Edith Wharton (in the fashion of George Elliot).  This is a big-looking, long, wide-screen film and I don’t know why Sony-Columbia didn’t provide it in larger release.   This may be an elongated soap-opera, but there is a certain voyeuristic fascination for the moviegoer in watching the social position and self-concept of socialite Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson, from “X-Files”) slip away. She’s caught in a kind of bind, all right.  She wants to be independent and society doesn’t give women the opportunity to carve their own way. Self-righteously she turns down or toys with various marriage or affair proposals (played by people like Dan Akyroyd, Eric Stolz, Anthony LaPaglia) using sour grapes and sweet lemons. But she has no real skills, and her young adulthood has been consumed with “playing cards for money,” and she cannot afford to bite the hands that feed her to bail her out of debt. Her aunt duly rebukes her frim the grave with a pittance for an inheritance and scene that reminds one of John Knowles’s story “The Reading of the Will.”  This continues her downward mobility into “the working class,” once predicted by her astonishing statement, “People are growing tired of me,” as if she suspected her independence had a false basis, duly susceptible to a Maoist “cultural revolution” with some kind of external egalitarian justice to make her into a peasant. Well, she winds up working as a hostess, when her public reputation (well before the days of the Internet) gets her fired.  She tries a “real job” as a milliner and can’t do the work.  The scene where she gets fired is crudely effective: Her female boss scolds her, “your work is poor… I trust that you will find a position commensurate with your skills”—which are zero.  We watch her descend to her inevitable tragic end.

A Room with a View (1985, Cinceom/Goldcrest, dir. James Ivory, novel by E. M. Forster, 117 min, PG-13) was a Forster Merchant-Ivory movie that proceeded Maurice, in the days that these films were smaller indie period pieces, though with star British casts. Lucy Honeychurch is in a hotel room in Tuscany with a chaperone Charlotte Bartlett and no view. Neighbors change the situation, and Lucy will find herself years later choosing between a socially approved marriage and her true love. Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Judy Densch, Dany Day Lewis.

Related reviews: Maurice


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