The Wings of a Dove (1997)

“There’s far too much going on behind those pretty lashes.”

The wonderful period film The Wings of a Dove asks the question does the issue of money cloud or clarify love? Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) is the product of a misalliance–her long-dead mother married badly, and Kate’s misanthrope father lives in poverty haunting the pubs, brothels and opium dens of London’s seamy side. Kate is rescued from poverty by her Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling), and when the film begins, Kate is living with Maude in her London mansion while her aunt plots to marry Kate to a wealthy man. Kate, however, is already in love with journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Merton wants Kate to marry him, but while she meets him for secret trysts, she refuses to join Merton’s life of humble circumstances. She’s lived in the squalor of poverty, but she’s developed a taste for finer things. While Kate insists she loves Merton, she’s not willing to be a poor man’s wife.

Kate meets an American heiress, the “world’s richest orphan” Millie Theale (Alison Elliott), and the two young women become friends. But Kate, who learns that Millie is terminally ill, begins hatching a plot that will bring her both Merton and money in time….

Love is examined through these three complex characters–there’s Kate’s love–predicated on there being enough money to enjoy it, Merton’s love–he will do whatever he’s told to for the sake of love, and Millie’s all-encompassing fine other-worldly variety. Iain Softley’s adaptation of the Henry James novel is exquisite. Well-cast, beautifully acted, with gorgeous sets and costumes, the film is a feast for Henry James fans and lovers of British costume drama. But there’s so much more here than just the surface perfection of the film. The script captures the subtle nuances of Kate’s complicated character, so that by the time the film ends, many of her actions are left open to interpretation. Similarly, the highly-principled Merton, who becomes a willing tool in Kate’s scheme, is portrayed as a man who idealizes one woman while being passionately in love with a woman whose character he cannot admire. The last player in this tortured love triangle is Millie, and while she’s not as interesting a character as Kate (to either the viewer or Merton), she’s clearly the finer person who desperately wants to live, love and be loved in return. From director Iain Softley.


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