Directed by: Terence Davies
Written by:Terence Davies
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony LaPaglia, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney, Terry Kinney, Elizabeth McGovern, Eleanor Bron
Released: June 14, 2001
Grade: A-

Love is too easily trivialised on screen but The House Of Mirth once again proves that many great love films are supported by an even more impressive novel.  In the past few years, we’ve seen  feature films adapted from William Shakespeare’s finest works (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Hamlet, Richard III, Romeo & Juliet) and Jane Austen’s classics (Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense And Sensibility, Persuasion).  A new infatuation is developing for the works of early 20th century author Edith Jones who we know from Ethan Frome, The Age Of Innocence and now, The House Of Mirth.

There was a great discussion on The Panel last week talking about the weakness of modern-day scripts.  Casablanca, in my opinion the greatest film of all time, originally began with a 250 page treatment from which the best parts were taken to condense the film into two hours.  It was the golden time in Hollywood and screenwriters of the era would be horrified to see how many of today’s scripts are created.  Many are created from just a few pages of notes and made stretch into 90 minutes.

You can’t overlook the evidence.  Look at recent atrocities such as Head Over Heels, Crocodile Dundee in L.A., Monkeybone and Valentine (all released in past two months).  A simple idea is dragged out and tortured to death.  With stars signing contracts before drafts are even written, the importance of the script itself is being lost and trust me, it’s not conducive to good filmmaking.

Set in 1905, The House Of Mirth revolves around Lily Bart (brilliantly played by Gillian Anderson) and her quest to find love and fortune.  Her wealthy aunt affords her a life of luxury which makes her a part of elite society.  Lily has reached that age where marriage is expected and in a time when a woman’s reputation is all she has, her own mistakes combined with ill wishes from others, will make her task to find a husband very difficult.

Lily has always longed for Lawrence (Stoltz) and the two are close but neither will admit to their true feelings.  Lily stumbles across letters indicating Lawrence has been romantically involved with good friend Bertha (Linney) meaning she is cheating on her husband George (Terry).  Thinking Lawrence does not love her, Lily pursues other avenues including the advancements of the married Gus Trenor (Aykroyd) and the wealthy Sim Rosedale (LaPaglia).  Lily knows she must marry but despite the offers of fortune and security that these two gentlemen can provide, her heart is tied to Lawrence and will not let go.

Her world is soon shattered when her gambling debts are discovered by her aunt who disinherits Lily from her will.  Further, Bertha is looking for a way out of her marriage with George and uses Lily as a scapegoat by publicly announcing the lie that the two were having an affair.  With her reputation in tatters, Lily has the evidence to clear her name (the letters) but in doing so would destroy the reputation of her true love Lawrence.  Whichever path she takes, someone will be hurt.

It’s a marvellous film with the kind of cast you wouldn’t always expect.  Director Terence Davies is a newcomer to Hollywood and gets the most out of his crew.  I could rave of the impeccable sets and costumes (as I always do with period piece productions) but it’s the depth of the story which has me recommending it so highly.  It may not have the razzle and dazzle of Moulin Rouge but the message is still the same - love can give so much and yet take so much away.