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Review: 'The Wings of the Dove' is soaring cinema

Scenes from the film December 10, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 a.m. EST (0500 GMT)

From reviewer Carol Buckland

(CNN) -- Grown-up moviegoers, rejoice. This film's for you.

"The Wings of the Dove" is a mesmerizing piece of work. It's luscious to look at and exerts an unsettling pull on both intellect and emotion.

Based on the novel by Henry James, this is a compelling tale of love and loss, death and deception. At its center is Kate Croy, a fascinating schemer whose passion for a penniless journalist is tempered by her craving for a luxurious life. When a dying American heiress enters her orbit, Kate can't help but start to connive. She persuades her lover to woo his way into the about-to-expire millionairess' affections -- and into her will.

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    Costume-drama queen Helena Bonham Carter plays Kate and she is superb. Her intensely intelligent, darkly sensual performance has already earned her a best actress award from the National Board of Review. An Oscar nomination -- at the very least -- seems inevitable.

    Linus Roache does a beautifully nuanced job as the journalist-gigolo, Merton Densher. Although his swoon-worthy good looks make him seem a tad opaque in the opening scenes, he peels back the layers of his character as the film progresses. He also strikes a startlingly intimate chemistry with Bonham Carter.

    Alison Elliot takes the role of the languishing heiress, Milly Theale. While she's not up to the acting standard set by Bonham Carter and Roache, she acquits herself effectively. Her Milly is a doomed innocent, but she's not a wimp. If Elliot doesn't quite capture the transcendent goodness that's the key to her character, she makes her attraction for Denscher -- for Kate herself, in fact -- very believable.

    There's strong supporting work from Charlotte Rampling as Kate's rich-bitch aunt, Maude, and from Alex Jennings as a mercenary aristocrat. The major minus in the cast is Elizabeth McGovern, who seems awkwardly out of place as Milly's paid companion.

    James' novel was set in 1902. The film, directed by Iain Softley and written by Hosein Amini, shifts the action forward eight years.

    Production-wise, this is a brilliant movie. Instead of being subjected to the confining elegance of, say, a Merchant-Ivory flick, the audience is seduced by lush, sometimes downright decadent, imagery. The "modern" setting lends a particularly piquant edge to Kate's manipulations.

    "The Wings of the Dove" flies high in a year when a whole lot of mega-buck movies barely got off the ground. It's exquisite -- and very adult -- entertainment.

    "The Wings of the Dove" is rated R. That's for nudity, language and a focus on not-for-the-kiddies themes.

     
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