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The Bostonians - The Merchant Ivory Collection
The Bostonians - The Merchant Ivory Collection
Actors: Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Tandy, Madeleine Potter, Nancy Marchand
Director: James Ivory
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
NR     2003     2hr 2min

Merchant Ivory Productions, The Criterion Collection, and Home Vision Entertainment are proud to present The Merchant Ivory Collection — In Boston in the aftermath of the Civil War, Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), a gift...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Tandy, Madeleine Potter, Nancy Marchand
Director: James Ivory
Creators: Albert Schwartz, Connie Kaiserman, Ismail Merchant, Michael S. Landes, Paul Bradley, Henry James, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance
Studio: Merchant Ivory Productions
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/19/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1984
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1984
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 17
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 07/10/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is a solid, Merchant-Ivory screen adaptation of the Henry James novel of the same name. Set in the nineteenth century, shortly after the civil war, a young newcomer to the then nascent suffragette movement, Varena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), captures the hearts of many with her eloquent, passionate oratory on the second class citizenry of women.

Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), a wealthy Bostonian, is a patroness of the suffragette movement. Together with her southern cousin, the handsome and strapping Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), she goes to hear Varena speak. Both are entranced by Varena, and Olive takes her under her wing, trying to give her the polish she needs in order for Varena to take a prominent place of leadership within the women's movement.

Basil has other plans, as he is smitten. He pursues Varena relentlessly, with the objective of making her his wife and having her assume a traditional role within the framework of marriage. In his way stands Olive, who, though still in the closet, clearly has very strong and passionate feelings for Varena, who seems oblivious to Olive's true desires.

In the meantime, Varena expands her horizons and become a favorite on the lecture circuit. She captures the hearts of many young men along the way, much to Olive's dismay, including that of wealthy, Henry Burrage (Jon Van Ness), who is fully supportive of Varena's participation in the movement. His mother, Mrs. Burrage (Nancy Marchand), is very much aware that Olive is an impediment to the potential union of Henry and Varena. She tries to talk to Olive about a match between the two, only to have Olive immediately take Varena away in response to the threat that Henry poses.

Unfortunately for Olive, her cousin Basil is more persistent. To see who wins this tug of war for Varena's heart, one must see the movie. Vanessa Redgrave, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Olive Chancellor, gives a stunning performance as the sexually repressed, still in the closet, lesbian. Fearsome in her devotion to Varena, she passionately fights tooth and nail, within the constraints of the mores of the time, to keep Varena free of any romantic encumbrances with the opposite sex. Regdgrave does this with a deft touch, giving a beautiful and well-nuanced performance.

Madeleine Potter does the best that she can with the role of Varena, managing to imbue the character with a certain intelligence and sweetness. She lacks, however, the beauty, charm, and winsomeness necessary to convince the viewer that she can so passionately stir the hearts of so many. She also lacks the skill necessary to persuade the viewer see what is, obviously, not there.

Christopher Reed gives a credible, though not show stopping, performance in the role of Basil, Olive's rival for the affections of Varena. Nancy Marchand, on the other hand, gives a superb performance as Mrs. Burrage, the woman who, seeing what Olive is up to, plays a verbal cat and mouse game with her in hopes of having Olive see reason with respect to her son's suit for Varena's hand.

All in all, those who love period pieces should enjoy this one, if only for Vanessa Redgrave's brilliant performance. Unfortunately, this DVD does not offer much of anything by way of special features. It does not even provides a particularly good picture, as it is somewhat grainy in quality."
America is still battling...and again it's Boston brewing!
KerrLines | Baltimore,MD | 03/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There is alot that does not readily meet the eye on just a one time viewing of this magnificently engaging adaptation of Henry James' novel.Merchant-Ivory has assembled an incredibly intelligent look at the American struggle for independence by focusing us back to "The Cradle of the Revolution"-Boston.It is 1875.The film commences with an organist thunderously improvising on the tune AMERICA:MY COUNTRY,'TIS OF THEE.A melodramatic stage has been set for us to view another American battle about to be waged;a war for women's rights as well as a knockdown-dragout fight between a triangle of players competing for rivaled affections as if for very life itself!.Verena is the seeming prize!Verena (Madeleine Potter) is a young and lovely innocent whose father has exploited her gifts of mesmerizing oratory.Verena has hardly ever been allowed to have an original thought of her own,and is prime fodder for the Suffragette Movement for women's rights.Olive (Vanessa Redgrave),a devout espouser for her sex, is overcome by Verena and strikes up a very clinging/domineering/teacher/ almost lover relationship with Verena in order to mold her into the speaker of the women's rights cause (something that Olive herself feels unqualified to do because of her looks and low image of self).Enter Basil (Christopher Reeves) who also is captivated by Verena,but not for her oratory,but for her desirability as a woman.Basil is a "Southern gentleman"who has definite ideas of a woman's role,definitely NOT in line with emancipation. These three duke it out with words,betrayals,emotional suicides ,yet all three end up winners,of sorts;Verena,finally choosing something for her own self, forsakes the movement and Olive which gives both Verena and Basil each other,but more importantly,Olive,when seemingly abandoned,rises to the ocassion,taking up the sword for the cause,and finds her own voice to speak for American women in bondage with just as much if not more passion than Verena ever could!.The film cleverly ends with the Revolutionary War tune BUNKER HILL as the credits roll.This song had been written to embolden the Colonials to fight even harder for their freedom after their defeat by the British.Thus, Olive will continue to fight for the ultimate prize of women's freedom despite losing the battle for Verena to Basil. GOOD STUFF!
An excellent companion film would be the PBS documentary NOT FOR OURSELVES ALONE:THE STORY OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON & SUSAN B. ANTHONY."
"Will you be my friendly friend forever and ever?"
Mary Whipple | New England | 08/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Set in 1875, this Merchant-Ivory film focuses on the post-Civil War intellectual community of Boston and Cambridge, bringing to life the suffragist movement, which passionately involved many of its women. Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) is a beautiful and charming young woman who draws large, paying crowds to hear her speak about "the just revolution," which would free women from their second class status. Though Verena describes herself as "only a girl, a simple American girl," her strength as a speaker quickly brings her to the attention of Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave), an older woman whose dedication to the movement, and eventually to Verena, is single-minded and all-consuming.

When Verena moves in with the overly protective Olive, Olive wants her to promise that she will never marry, but the inevitable happens. Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), Olive's cousin, arrives from the south, and is immediately smitten by Verena. Soon Verena must face the conflicts between her loyalties toward Olive and the movement, and her growing love for Basil.

The script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Henry James, brings the passionate commitment of the suffragists to life, and the direction by James Ivory shows the pervasive effects of the movement on both men and women, from Harvard students to elderly matriarchs and pioneering female doctors. The costumes, which were nominated for an Academy Award, and the settings in Boston's Back Bay drawing rooms and shore-side summer homes give a liveliness and reality to the period which James's own intricate, philosophical prose sometimes lacks. Supporting roles by Jessica Tandy, Linda Hunt, Wally Shawn, and Nancy Marchand add power and dramatic intrigue to the emotional tug-of-war for the soul of Verena.

Redgrave won an Academy Award nomination for her role as Olive, a woman whose need for the naive and somewhat simple Verena is overwhelming. Her fear of being left alone, her jealousy of the men who court Verena, and her desire to use Verena to advance her own suffragist message are beautifully acted. Madeleine Potter effectively conveys Verena's innocence, her almost child-like nature, and her growing awareness that she has some freedoms that she has never explored. Reeve, with his southern accent, is a bit difficult to understand at times, and his love scenes with Verena are wooden, lacking the spark which would have made them seem real. A fascinating period piece, the film lacks the philosophical depth of the novel but gains greatly in drama. Mary Whipple"
Trouble in Boston
Bomojaz | South Central PA, USA | 10/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Based on Henry James's novel, this movie is a satirical look at the women's emancipation movement around the turn of the century in general, and how one woman (played by Vanessa Redgrave) keeps another (Madeleine Potter) locked away for her own purposes. Unfortunately, the movie does not focus in on this irony strongly enough. Where the movie should be crystal clear in its intentions, it is instead soft-focused and wishy-washy. In addition, Christopher Reeve plays a lawyer who also becomes interested in Potter, setting up a dramatic love triangle. There are some powerful scenes between Reeve and Redgrave, but not enough of them. The period detail is well presented, but that's not enough to keep us fully engaged."