Washington Square (1997)

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Director: Agnieszka Holland

Writer: Henry James (novel), Carol Doyle (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Maggie Smith, Ben Chaplin, Jennifer Garner, Robert Stanton

Synopsis: Washington Square stars Jennifer Jason-Leigh and is a well-crafted version of the novel by Henry James. In 19th-century America Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) falls in love with Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), but her father (Albert Finney), who blames Catherine for his wife's death in child-birth, threatens to disinherit her if she marries her new love.

Finney suspects Townsend may only be after his daughter's fortune, but Finney's motives are a complex mix of guilt and resentment, setting the scene for a dark psychological drama sometimes leavened by the humorous interjections of her Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith). Director Agnieszka Holland makes everything look elegant and the film is romantic and thoughtful, without ever really achieving greatness. Jason-Leigh is good, but the film belongs to Albert Finney in one of his best performances of the 90s. Released around the same time was Jane Campion's version of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, starring Nicole Kidman, as well as the superb The Wings of the Dove, with a magnificent central performance from Helena Bonham Carter.


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