The Portrait of a Lady

January 17, 1997 0 By Fans
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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

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
(29 December 1996)
(7 Screens)

Gross: $3,692,836
(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-