The Portrait of a Lady

January 17th, 1997


more trailers The Portrait of a Lady

Still of Barbara Hershey in The Portrait of a LadyStill of Shelley Duvall in The Portrait of a LadyStill of Shelley Winters in The Portrait of a LadyStill of John Gielgud in The Portrait of a LadyStill of Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich in The Portrait of a LadyStill of Mary-Louise Parker in The Portrait of a Lady

Isabel Archer, an American heiress and free thinker travels to Europe to find herself. She tactfully rebuffs the advances of Caspar Goodwood...

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 6.0/10 (6,011 voted)

Critic's Score: 61/100

Director: Jane Campion

Stars: Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey

Isabel Archer, an American heiress and free thinker travels to Europe to find herself. She tactfully rebuffs the advances of Caspar Goodwood, another American who has followed her to England. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, wise but sickly becomes a soulmate of sorts for her. She makes an unfortunate alliance with the creepy Madame Merle who leads her to make an even more unfortunate alliance with Gilbert Osmond, a smooth but cold collector of Objets' de art who seduces her with an intense but unattainable sexuality. Isabel marries Osmond only to realize she's just another piece of art for his collection and that Madame Merle and Osmond are lovers who had hatched a diabolical scheme to take Isabel's fortune. Isabel's only comfort is the innocent daughter of Osmond, Pansy, but even that friendship is spoiled when Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister, reveals the child's true parentage...

Writers: Henry James, Laura Jones

Nicole Kidman - Isabel Archer
John Malkovich - Gilbert Osmond
Barbara Hershey - Madame Serena Merle
Mary-Louise Parker - Henrietta Stackpole
Martin Donovan - Ralph Touchett
Shelley Winters - Mrs. Touchett
Richard E. Grant - Lord Warburton
Shelley Duvall - Countess Gemini
Christian Bale - Edward Rosier
Viggo Mortensen - Caspar Goodwood
Valentina Cervi - Pansy Osmond
John Gielgud - Mr. Touchett
Roger Ashton-Griffiths - Bob Bantling
Catherine Zago - Mother Superior
Alessandra Vanzi - Nun #2

Release Date: 17 January 1997

Filming Locations: England, UK

Opening Weekend: $134,805 (USA) (29 December 1996) (7 Screens)

Gross: $3,692,836 (USA) (24 February 1997)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Originally Jane Campion was talking to John Malkovich about playing the part later taken by Martin Donovan.

Crew or equipment visible: (At 08:47) A horse carriage is passing through the shot from right to left. The crew with dolly-cam and equipment is clearly visible.

Isabel Archer: My cousin. He's dying. I must go to him.
Gilbert Osmond: Your cousin was dying when we married. He'll outlive us all.

User Review

The Portrait of a Lady (1996)


Watching Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady is kind of like watching a David Lynch movie: it may not always work, but it never ceases to be interesting. After winning an Oscar for writing The Piano and becoming only the second woman to ever be nominated for the Best Director Academy Award, hopes were high for what Campion had in store for us next, and perhaps some were disappointed by this flawed -- but good, nevertheless -- entry in her resume. But I wasn't (at least, not for the most part). Okay: so maybe this isn't a masterpiece in the vein of The Piano, but since when was everything supposed to be? What's important is that Campion tried something different and made a rather good movie in the process. The Portrait of a Lady marks another screen adaptation for the popular period novelist Henry James, and though it may not be as great an adaptation as, say, The Wings of the Dove, it is certainly one of the most peculiar. Peculiar in how it is treated, that is, not in the subject matter (which boils down to the typical money-hungry snobs searching for romance); rather than taking the Merchant Ivory route, Campion delivers a much looser interpretation of the material, starting with an opening sequence that features a multitude of modern women staring blankly at the screen, one of them dancing to the music of her walkman. While I'm still unsure as to whether or not her liberal vision works, I'm pleased that Campion had the nerve to try it. The Portrait of a Lady tells the story of a young American woman (played, oddly enough, by Aussie actress Nicole Kidman) who inherits a fortune and is seduced by a manipulative artist (John Malkovich) while a mysterious woman (Barbara Hershey) pulls the strings; ultimately, Kidman has to decide the spouse for her stepdaughter, and choose which life she wants to lead herself. The cast of Portrait of a Lady is something to salivate over: aside from the aforementioned stars, Shelley Winters, Christian Bale, Shelley Duvall, and John Gielgud are just a few of the A-list actors that make an appearance (also, keep your eye open for Viggo Mortensen, now famous for playing Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Kidman is appropriately melodramatic, and Malkovich is phenomenal (as always), but the Academy did right in recognizing the most outstanding performance of the picture, Barbara Hershey's (who earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress): she is both cold and wildly emotional, mystical and open, and she does it all with the grace and confidence of a true star. The script features some terrific dialogue, but at two-and-a-half hours, it runs a little long at times; Campion keeps the pace moving with her innovative direction (which features tilted camera angles, a throwback to silent black-and-white films, and a stunning romantic fantasy sequence), but one wonders if she doesn't try a little too hard at times. Yet as with any good period piece, when the story slacks, the costumes and art direction act as a worthy distraction (as they often do here). It is also worth noting the lush original score by Wojciech Kilar, which makes everything seem far more fascinating than it truly is. The Portrait of a Lady never reaches any true emotional or artistic depth, but I wasn't expecting it to: I was simply expecting something that was good to look at with just enough plot to keep me interested throughout, and that's what I got.

Grade: A-