37. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)

A film that rests almost entirely on the strength of performance, Gillian Anderson manages to bring weight to the liveliest of movements. Even at her most vibrant, she seems somehow out of breath… always charming, but somewhat torn down before her time. The desperation of her situation and age from the onset are undeniable, and even someone removed from understanding the circumstances that breed  Lily Bart’s downfall. Though perhaps not as strong an adaptation as it could have been, the film remains one of the strongest period pieces of the decade and I can’t deny my own weakness for the “genre”, and of course it doesn’t hurt that the source material is so strong and so emotionally draining, that it is difficult to fail. The film’s final moments are just as heartbreaking and regretful as they should be.

8 responses to “37. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)

  1. Lily Bart is one of the fictional protagonists I most identify with (this should say a lot, and it does!) and Davies– well, not a director who rubs me the right way.

    I’m intrigued by the artifice of the shot you’ve captured, with its typical Davies frontality and what I assume to be rear projection. It’s oddly old fashioned but not attributable to any particular period or style in previous cinema, Davies being so willfully idiosyncratic.

    Anderson, bless her heart, was of course too old to play Lily, but I’m sure she gave it the college try . . .

  2. When Gillian Anderson started shooting the film, she was one year older than Lily Bart. A horrible age difference, indeed. ; P

    Mesmerizing performance from the actress. La Paglia was very good, too. Both Anderson and Davies should work more. Ideally, they should work on a project together again.

  3. Well, being born in August ’68 and shooting, presumably, in ’99 or even into 2000 that age difference yawns wide to TWO years– not such a gap, to be sure, except–

    Anderson just looks too damn old. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s laundered her age a tad. While Lily, in her quintessence of American girlhood, has to be a very vernal sort of 29– 29 year olds, one finds, come in different flavors, and while the marriage-market has its own ageing properties, these are not the same as the FBI’s.

    Lily Bart, quite simply, is not a character to be played by anyone in a Bette Davis sort of mold.

    And I’m under the vague impression Wharton’s Lily’s a blonde– in this case, a horrible hair difference, indeed!

  4. GA looks/looked old?? Whatever. Have you seen how does she like now at 41?
    I’m sure she’s not lied about her age, watch the X Files pilot, when she was 25 and looks just 25.

    There’s no age gap anyway: Lily is 29 when the story begins, and 31 at the end – GA was 30/31 when shooting.

    And if you want to nitpick, LB is a brunette in the novel.

  5. Rubbish, good Mali; find me this “brunette”, if you please! A planting of “straight black lashes” does not a brunette make, particularly if her gentleman admirer has to wonder if she is “ever so slightly brightened by art”. The best you can hope for, I fear, is to appeal to the Reynolds portrait she impersonates during the tableaux-vivants, but that, I think, is a stretch.

    Has she not also the *soul* of a blonde? My larger point is: this is not social realism, but Jamesian melodrama with a veneer of social realism. Lily Bart is in no naturalistic sense a twenty-nine year old; in the marriage-market of 1905 she would have been long knocked out of the game, and she would bear more than the mere suggestion of a wrinkle or two. ” . . . under her dark hat and veil she retained the girlish smoothness, the purity of tint, that she was beginning to lose after eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing.” Not 29, but a teenage ingenue who has magically, a bit terrifyingly, somehow lost eleven years on her way from the ball.

    I mean in no sense to deny Gillian Anderson’s considerable charms; she was attractive then and, I imagine, is well-preserved now. But she is not a Grecian goddess who has stumbled into the parlour by some trick of fate, which is what Lily Bart must be. If Nicole Kidman was a flawed call for Isabel Archer, Anderson is semi-disastrous for Lily, and clearly cannot be true to Wharton’s conception. And Davies, the antithesis of a sprightly director, not surprisingly fails to get this.

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