An intricately plotted tale of thwarted love and betrayal, The Golden Bowl tells the story of an extravagantly rich American widower (NOLTE) and his sheltered daughter (BECKINSALE), both of whom marry only to discover that their respective mates, a beautiful American expatriate and an impoverished Italian aristocrat (THURMAN and NORTHAM), are entangled with one another in a romantic intrigue of seduction and deceit.
Set in England and Italy between 1903 and 1909, The Golden Bowl is adapted from the Henry James novel by the acclaimed and award-winning filmmaking team of Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who have had great past success with James, namely in their films based on his novels The Bostonians and The Europeans. Such literary adaptations as these, as well as A Room with a View, Maurice, Howards End, The Remains of the Day, and now The Golden Bowl, are clearly a Merchant Ivory forte - the team has thirty-one Academy Award nominations and six Oscars for their screen adaptations, including two for writer Ruth Jhabvala, between them. But these films are also consistent showcases for their actors' best work, and The Golden Bowl is no exception. Thurman's passionate Charlotte Stant is her most challenging role so far; Nolte is a revelation as the brilliant and subtle Robber Baron; and screen legends Huston and Fox stand out in their supporting performances. Jeremy Northam's Prince is infused with a rare sophistication; and Kate Beckinsale (who will also star in the much-anticipated film Pearl Harbor, opening in May) shines as a seemingly naive beauty who proves to have the strongest will of all.
After Bombay Talkie, Merchant Ivory turned next to a documentary. BBC television commissioned them to do a film on Nirad Chaudhuri, the celebrated Indian polymath whom Merchant, Ivory, and Jhabvala had all known in India, and who was then in England doing research for a book on the Sanskrit scholar Max Müeller. Chaudhuri is clearly an extraordinary man. His interests are not only cross-cultural (he is a brilliant commentator on comparative cultures of India and the West), but also interdisciplinary--involving history, anthropology, linguistics, political science, sociology, and a half-dozen other fields. He can talk on any subject under the sun. Chaudhuri is also a passionate Anglophile, as he proclaimed in his book A Passage to England, one of whose chapter titles provides the title of the documentary.
In the 54-minute film, Ivory observes the diminutive (he is only five feet tall), seventy-six-year-old scholar in the settings of Oxford and London. Ivory places him in a number of situations: a dinner party, a don's study, a visit to a graveyard, a fitting at a tailor's, a walk along the town's High Street--and lets him talk. Nimble-witted and voluble, he expounds on everything from the beauties of his beloved Mozart to the misrule, or rather the lack of any rule at all, of India; from his passion for Kipling (the best of all English writers on India, he maintains) to the vacuousness of the yoga cult and the intellectually damaging effects of the Indian diet, deficient in protein. His spryness as a walker of Oxford's streets is matched by his biting and provocative opinions, which he appears to relish. He becomes a self-creating portrait; and Ivory, in fact, regards the film, so concise and yet so full of life, as a "profile."
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