The House Of Mirth

on December 22, 2000 by Chris Wiegand
   This elegant adaptation of Edith Wharton's classic novel is set at the end of the 19th century and tells the story of Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson), a beautiful Manhattan socialite in search of a wealthy husband. Opportunity presents itself in the form of Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) but, missing her chance, Lily is forced to explore the limited circle of other available suitors. In order to pay off gambling debts, she also finds herself in a difficult position with Gus Trenor (a remarkably nasty Dan Aykroyd). When she is wrongly suspected of having an affair, Lily falls out of favor with her social circle and is excluded from the only world she has ever known.

   Wharton's novels supply a much-needed cast of strong female roles for the cinema, and Gillian Anderson is a revelation as the tragic Lily Bart. Her performance carries the film and there is hardly a scene in which her presence is not felt. Lily's tragic downfall from socialite to seamstress is captivating to watch, and the scenes between Anderson and Stoltz are impressively charged. Not since Bogart and Bacall has cigarette smoking been so damn sexy. There are also strong performances from Laura Linney as the savage hostess Bertha Dorset, and Elizabeth McGovern as one of Lily's rapidly decreasing number of confidantes. The twin obsessions of Wharton's world--sex and money--are of course still strikingly relevant, and her story of blackmail and compromised sexuality, of people either on their way up or down in society, has a contemporary appeal.

   Terence Davies' film is intelligently lit by Oscar-nominated director of photography Remi Adefarasin ("Elizabeth") and features some beautiful set pieces. Filmed on location in Glasgow's stately mansions and country houses, "The House of Mirth" offers the same lavish attention to period detail as Scorsese's adaptation of "The Age of Innocence."    Starring Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Laura Linney and Eric Stoltz. Directed and written by Terence Davies. Produced by Olivia Stewart. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 140 min.

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