Good Companion to Campion's Version
P. Kelley | College Park, MD USA | 05/31/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was drawn to this 4-hour BBC version because I found that Jane Campion's highly stylized 2-hour version--while beautiful and lyrical--omitted major points of the story that the viewer really must know the novel to fill in any missing gaps. For instance, I found that the Campion version didn't fully address *why* Isabel would be drawn to Gilbert Osmond. In my opinion, this BBC version gives more time to their courtship and at least offers up a more plausible reason. Another shortcoming of the Campion film is that it truncated Caspar Goodwood's part, making it difficult to follow the full arc of Caspar's and Isabel's relationship. On the other hand, I like Campion's ending better because it features Isabel's and Caspar's final scene together, which is quite poetic in its own right. The BBC version ends with just the final, poignant scene between Isabel and her cousin, Ralph.
Another major difference between the two films is how the part of Gilbert Osmond was played. I had a little difficulty watching John Malkovich in the Campion version because I thought he played it too closely to his brilliant Valmont character in "Dangerous Liaisons," which actually spoiled the fun. You knew immediately where this character was going. The actor in the BBC version, I thought, played the role with perfect pitch, slowly revealing Osmond's deviousness.
As for Cousin Ralph, both Richard Chamberlain (BBC version) and Martin Donovan (Campion version) did a wonderful job with their roles. You couldn't wait for either one of them to reappear on the screen.
All in all, both film versions have something to offer and I recommend each as a complement to the other."
Droll and Disappointing
Rebecca J. Burke | La Grange, KY United States | 12/25/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Many the world over raved after this television version of Henry James' story, The Portrait of a Lady, aired in 1968 on the BBC, mostly due to Richard Chamberlain's performance as Ralph Touchett. I myself, being an avid fan of the novel, found the film dull and uninspiring compared to it's literary counterpart. The pace was slow, the acting dry and the American accents horrid, and the anticipation of what many critics called "the BEST version" of the film led to severe disappointment. I caution, though, that I am not used to 1960's BBC productions, so someone else may find it as charming as I find it droll. On the positive side, the Edwardian costumes were quite lovely, and I won't deny the fact that Richard Chamberlain was the most entertaining of the cast. Compared to the 1996 version starring Nicole Kidman, Barbara Hershey, and John Malkovich, I would suggest the 1996 version if you really want to delve into the psyche of Isabel Archer and the games played by Serena Merle and Gilbert Osmond."
Stagebound Adaptation of a Classic
Edward Aycock | New York, NY United States | 03/29/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This television movie was very popular at the time of its release in 1968, now its luster has somewhat diminished and may only appeal to those familiar with the story. Nevertheless, it's worth the while. This interpretation is a much more faithful version of Henry James's novel than Jane Campion's 1996 version (with its talking beans and bewildering title sequence featuring what seemed to be a contemporary day in the woods for a women's college), yet it's that same faithfulness that is also its biggest weak spot.
The opening third of the novel has often been criticized as being slow; while it sets up the characters well, the true story doesn't gain momentum until Isabel meets Madame Merle and goes to Florence. The first hour is a bit slow, (even though I don't really have a problem with the opening of the novel) and it took me a while to warm up to Suzanne Neve as Isabel. I found Neve to be the strongest after Isabel marries Gilbert Osmond and she matures. I also had to think of this production as a stage play because the directing style reflects that: characters have their backs turned to the person they're addressing, the acting style is overemphatic but by the second hour, I got over the bad American accents and found myself enjoying it immensely.
It's interesting to note that both filmed versions of "Portrait" have never told the story to the very last pages. I think a lot of people have problems with Isabel's final decision, and it would bring down the viewers, as it has many readers. We want Isabel to have much more hopeful future than James gave to her."