Movie Review: Washington Square
Reviewed by Gerti
I have never been a fan of Henry James as a writer. I do however love this movie adaptation of “Washington Square,” one of his books about the upper classes and their “problems”, which in this case is a young woman’s struggle for love.
Here talented actress Jennnifer Jason Leigh plays the protagonist, Catherine, a lonely young woman despised by her domineering father. Albert Finney is the hateful old man who chooses a flighty, flirty aunt to raise his daughter. The girl turns out so socially backward and her awkward tics and mannerisms seem nearly autistic, and it looks like no one will ever want to marry her. But when a handsome young suitor appears, the father believes his money is the motive for the affection shown to the girl. Dashing Ben Chaplin plays the rogue, who for all his devious motives, turns Catherine’s life around. They kiss, they flirt, they play music together and actually spend time outside the captivity of her house. Catherine naturally falls deeply in love, but when her father maliciously refuses to allow Morris Townsend (Chaplin’s character) to marry her, Morris roughly throws her aside, ostensibly to make his fortune elsewhere.
The scenes where Morris tells Catherine of his mercenary motives and then leaves her, lying in the mud wallowing in despair, are truly pitiful. But Catherine is still not free from Morris, or her father’s hatred of him. When the old miser dies, he leaves her his house, but not his money, saying that if she ever married Morris, even that small inheritance would be taken from her. Catherine, however, finds a new calling, and runs a lovely school from her house, now filled with children whom she loves and who love her back for her innocence and gentleness. When Morris finally returns, she utterly rebuffs him, having at last come into her own power.
There are hard scenes to watch in the movie, like when the sexually repressed aunt flirts with Morris while at the same time encouraging his suit for Catherine. But Catherine can do nothing about the nest of vipers in which she has grown up, and must try to overcome their evil intentions (and selfish motives) the best she can. The only wonder is that she does survive and thrive, despite them. The film is always entertaining, and the message is powerful, showing how Catherine grows from ugly duckling into lovely swan, even though her wings are clipped by her terrible sire so she can never fly away from him. What is her crime? Her beautiful mother died giving birth to another baby (not her), but the grief-crazed father blames Catherine since she survived, and the little boy (and his mother) did not.
The movie will move you to tears many times as you watch Catherine’s struggles for love, and watch her realization that she can’t find it from the people she loves most, including her father and Morris. The movie is filled with fine performances by all the actors. The costumes and sets are also amazingly beautiful, and I recommend it highly.