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Portrait of a Lady
Starring Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich
Directed by Jane Campion

Henry James is one of the greatest writers in the history of the English novel. His construction and use of language are unparalleled. Now, for the first time, a film has duplicated the intricacies of James' story construction. It is Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady, starring Nicole Kidman. Campion, who previously wrote and directed The Piano has, in this work, displayed a grand appreciation and understanding of the craft of Henry James. Her finished work is properly paced and filled with exquisite camera movement, as well as having spectacular production values, costumes, and locations in England and Italy. Portrait is filmed mostly in dark shades of blue, as if to suggest the closing of both the 19th century and of chauvinistic modes of thinking.

Nicole Kidman portrays Isabel Archer, who at 23 is of a marrying age and not without suitors. But she wants to see more of the world, and refuses an eligible bachelor. A cousin, suffering from consumption (now called tuberculosis), arranges for her to inherit a large sum of money from his uncle. The wealthy Isabel is then free to explore the world at her pleasure.

She, of course, marries the first gigolo -- who's broke and prefers to live off her money -- who crosses her path. John Malkovich has refined this part in other roles and delivers a perfect and chilling performance.

Which is why you may see other reviews call Portrait of a Lady a perfect $8.00 on Cranky's scale.

But let's get real.

Henry James was, perhaps, the greatest writer in the history of the English novel, whose construction and use of language were unparalleled. Any collegiate professor of English literature will tell you so as you drown in the verbiage of any of his novels. I speak from personal experience. Campion's Portrait of a Lady is as suffocating and boring as the words on the printed page. It took all of fifteen minutes for the exodus from the movie theater in which I suffered through Portrait to begin, and said exodus continued steadily throughout all eight thousand six hundred and forty seconds of exquisite and carefully choreographed camera movements. Feh.

Portrait stars Nicole Kidman in a role that has other critics predicting Oscar. But Kidman's performance is a slate; there is no depth of character. By the time her emotional explosions hit the screen, it comes across solely as emoting-for- Oscar work. Thing is, Kidman can act. She just doesn't plumb the depths here.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Portrait of a Lady, he would have paid . . .


This is one case where I honestly don't award the "zero" with glee. If you like Henry James, then you'll probably like Portrait. The rest of us will be bored to death.

But Cranky has made it through other "zero" rated flicks without seeing a single soul get up and leave.

Click to buy films by Jane Campion
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The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is Copyright © 1995  -  2016   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.