DVD Reviews - The House of Mirth

      Date posted: January 29, 2002

The House of Mirth
Written and Directed by Terence Davies; Columbia Tri Star
Home Entertainment; anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Dolby Digital
and 2 Channel Dolby Surround; English, French, Spanish subtitles.

     X-Files fans might jump at the chance to see Gillian Anderson behaving quite unlike Agent Scully in this petrified forest of a costume drama. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton, “The House of Mirth” is a masterfully acted, superbly crafted bore, much like the other Wharton adaptation of note, Scorcese’s “The Age of Innocence.”

     Anderson has received many accolades for her performance, including the London Film Critics and The British Independent Film Best Actress awards. She is magnificent, portraying a difficult character who uses snobbishness as a defense mechanism, but is never fully able to conceal her insecurities. The offbeat casting does help to spice up the story–other featured players include Eric Stoltz, Laura Linney, Elizabeth McGovern, and Dan Aykroyd.

     The entire film has a surrealistic quality, floating from scene to scene with more dissolves than the antacid counter at Shoppers Drug Mart. Casting almost exclusively non-British actors seems a concerted effort by the director to clearly establish that even though everyone talks like David Niven, the audience must be aware that this story is set in New York City, not London.

     Of course, as we learn in the director’s commentary, at a budget of 8.5 million they couldn’t afford to shoot the film in New York, so the concept of ‘place’ is largely eliminated. Because such an integral part of Wharton’s work is her ability to capture the life of high-society in turn of the century New York, we’re at a huge disadvantage with the film adaptation right from the start.

     The story takes place over two years, with Anderson’s character suffering through unthinkable attrocities, almost always in the name of social ettiquette. She loves the dough, but not enough to sacrifice her life to a stiff Victorian marriage. She loves Eric Stoltz, but lacks the inner strength to give herself to him when he asks. Woe is she, woe is me.

     For those of you that just can’t get enough of costume dramas, there’s plenty of unrequited love, pale faces, art direction, and interior design. For those of you who thought “The English Patient” was a snooze, do yourself a favour and leave this one on the shelf.

     Special Features: This disc is loaded with goodies, including director’s commentary for both the film and two deleted scenes. The commentary is particularly amusing, almost worth the price of admission. It seems Mr. Davies believes he has done the world a great service by bringing this film to life, and he is not shy to tell you as much. He is “terribly proud” of any number of moments in basically every scene, and although it might seem unappetizing to spend a couple of hours with this degree of pomposity, the man is extremely intelligent and has obviously invested his entire being into the film, which must be respected.

     His commentary is charming, informative, and really much more entertaining than the film itself.

     Other features include the theatrical trailer, filmographies, and the cover advertises production notes and a weblink, although I failed to find either of them on the disc.

Darryl Stenabaugh

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