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House of Mirth (Terrance Davies) 2000

Gillian Anderson is absolutely devastating in Terrance Davies' brilliant adaptation of Wharton's great trash novel. The film is surely stifling at times, but the material couldn't be handled any other way. We need to feel as claustrophobic as Lily Bart if we're meant to understand her circumstance, so a lot of our time is spent looking at dimly lit rooms and listening to mannered speech. When the camera is finally freed from a sitting room, however, the we feel an absolute sense of freedom. There are exceptionally sensual moments here that are positively chaste by most film's standards. So worry not, there is mirth here for the audience, if not for Lily. Laura Linney, with great economy, turns in her best performance of 2000 (forget You Can Count on Me), and Dan Ackroyd shows a mean streak he never even hinted at before. It's soap opera-style tragedy at its absolute finest, infused with a great deal of suffocating restraint and class that still remains to feel like a different beast than the Merchant/Ivory films.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman