In the Henry James School of Filmed Adaptations, director Agnieszka Holland is the C-grade student.*************************** Washington Square. In the Henry James School of Filmed Adaptations, director Agnieszka Holland is the C-grade student (which speaks for the “project” as well) as compared to the erudition and studiousness of the A+ over-achiever Jane Campion (and her The Portrait of a Lady) and borderline A–/B+ Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove). Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the headstrong and well-intentioned but ill-informed heiress to her father’s life-long culmination of fortune and excess. However, a rift formulates with her father when she falls in love with a possibly money-hungry outcast with but only the family’s good name attached to his. Claiming that no good man could love his daughter, who is “dim-witted, unattractive with no social skill or grace,” that means that either/or must be proved, and that is what the chosen path of the movie is, only to end in an empty abandonment of the aforementioned examination. Carol Doyle’s adaptation lacks the grace and polish of a cinematic Jamesian work, but Washington Square is not the best example of his writing, at least compared to the more conducive and illuminating reworkings in the case of Campion and Softley. The dialogue is dry and crusty and suitor Ben Chaplin (like a mini-Rufus Sewell) is unable to provide a proper spark with the derelict Leigh. Chaplin has the appropriate looks for the character, but none of the requisite or inherent skill. Albert Finney hardly has but the chance to huff and puff in between lines, likely an effect of his gain in mass (far gone from his Looker days), but at least Maggie Smith is able to give Leigh some proper sparring in the cinematic ring. Among the list of criticisms, and leaning towards the moliminous, is the absence of the outside ambiance that the New York milieu of Washington Square itself should permeate. Instead of defining the exteriors with a Whartonian sense of class and birth in New York, it is all claustrophobically trapped indoors.
With the bright-faced Jennifer Garner.Final Verdict: C.