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The Golden Bowl.

The Golden Bowl * Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala * Directed by James Ivory * Starring Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman, and Jeremy Northam * Lions Gate Films

The Golden Bowl is a story of deception, a subject its author had mastered by the time he got around to writing it in the autumn of his career. As a teenager, Henry James attended Harvard Law School, a beehive for privileged young men learning how to dance around the truth in high style. But he ignored his studies to lap up the novels of Balzac and Hawthorne, whose characters were invariably lying to their wives, their husbands, or themselves.

James's own talent for self-deception must have been well-honed; his homosexuality was so veiled that biographers are only now beginning to grapple with it. He never married, and until recently it was assumed he was asexual, a euphemism often thrown around by historians who would sooner commit their heroes to a life of celibacy than concede that they were flaming sodomites.

If anyone could take on James's fortress of a novel and make it into a penetrable movie, it is director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Like most of that trio's collaborations (Howards End, A Room With a View), The Golden Bowl affords grand design ops. But for all its opulent real estate, furnishings, and costumes, this absorbing adaptation manages to strip James's deceivers good and naked--in the metaphorical sense.

Metaphor hangs heavy over the story's quartet of lovers. The precious object of the title is an expensive porcelain gem rendered imperfect by a barely discernible crack. The flawed bowl speaks to the marriage of Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northam) and Maggie Verver (Kate Beckinsale), the daughter of an American billionaire. Unbeknownst to Maggie, her best friend, Charlotte Stant (Uma Thurman), had once carried a torch for the social-climbing Amerigo.

When Maggie's father, Adam (Nick Nolte), asks Charlotte's hand in marriage, he unwittingly provides new fuel for his fiancee's old relationship. The two couples quickly become inseparable--except for the stolen moments when Charlotte and Amerigo are fooling around behind their spouses' backs.

Screenwriter Jhabvala grabs us by the collar with a cloak-and-dagger prologue that ratchets up the stakes throughout the genteel dance of adultery and denial that follows. She lifts dialogue liberally from the book, giving the movie the occasional air of self-parody (Thurman: "It's strange the way you and I are so immensely alone." Northam: "It's because they are so immensely together."). But the actors rise to the occasion, including the usually flaccid Thurman, who seems energized by Charlotte's smoldering vagina dentata potential.

One can only bemoan the peripheral appearances of Anjelica Huston, who is invariably the most interesting thing going in any movie in which she appears. She's a deadpan delight as a society matron who knows more about her friends' intrigues than she would care to. At one point she shows up at a costume ball as Mary, Queen of Scots, offering a trussed and bejeweled fantasy of how her author might have looked if he could have escaped his Edwardian deceptions and reveled in drag for one solitary evening.

Find more information on The Golden Bowl and Henry James at www.advocate.com

Stuart is film critic and senior film writer at Newsday.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 24, 2001
Words:544
Previous Article:Tales of the city of London.
Next Article:Ten Unknowns.
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