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WASHINGTON SQUARE

SYNOPSIS:
Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is an awkward young heiress who lives with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Albert Finney). Since his wife died giving birth to Catherine, Austin has depended on Lavinia Penniman (Maggie Smith), to raise his daughter and teach her the important social skills necessary for finding a husband in her elitist world. Catherine, however, has a will of her own and her behaviour seems both odd and irritating to her father. When a handsome, debonair suitor, Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin) falls for Catherine, Sloper thinks he is a gold-digger, warning Catherine that she will lose her inheritance should she marry him. But Catherine’s realises that her father has other motivation for his threats, and she must decide her course of action.

“Visually splendid with strong, moving performances, Agnieszka Holland’s Washington Square captures the essence of the era with both subtlety and passion. Carol Doyle’s scripting of Henry James’ novel brings the characters to life surely and precisely, clearly showing how little the passage of time alters life’s routine in 19th century New York. It is internally that the changes take place as we embark on the emotional journey from a downtrodden victim to a woman in control of her own destiny. Jennifer Jason Leigh is uncompromising in her interpretation of the clumsy ugly duckling. It is a brave performance, showcasing Jason Leigh in a most unglamorous light, yet she manages to reveal a beautiful and sensitive soul, delving deep beneath the skin for beauty. Albert Finney is magnificent as the dogmatic, cruel father with misguided devotion, Maggie Smith, engaging as the lonely, melodramatic Lavinia, while Ben Chaplin is impressive as Catherine’s heart-stealing suitor. You can almost smell and taste the dust of the horses and carriages, as they journey around 21 Washington Square. The production design is beautiful, the costumes lush and graceful, while the heavily stringed encompassing music score brings back days of elegance and style. Washington Square is a satisfying James interpretation; far more so, than Portrait of a Lady, achieving greater strength of characters and describing the subtlety of the era in the sumptuous surrounds.”
Louise Keller

“The eternal triangle - love, money and duplicity - frames Holland's stylish and ultimately moving film version of Henry James' Washington Square, possibly the most faithful adaptation of James thus far. Although set in upper-crust Manhattan in the 1850s, the story could be set anywhere, anytime people covet wealth and status enough to lie for it. One might expect pretty Jennifer Jason Leigh to be miscast as the plain Catherine, but with minimal make up, she is unexpectedly affecting in the role while Albert Finney gives a masterful performance as her detached father. Ben Chaplin makes a splendidly nuanced Morris Townsend, the handsome, secretly penniless suitor who sweeps Catherine off her feet, and Maggie Smith, who portrays Catherine's foolishly romantic, widowed Aunt Lavinia, shines as usual. Washington Square showcases a meticulously recreated New York of handsome carriages, raked dirt streets, ceremonious garden parties, glittering candlelight dinners, impossibly fussy frocks and finery - and hidden agendas. The movie looks great, and the actors purge themselves of modern and affecting mannerisms, making it possible to enter this past world. Happily, Washington Square, adapted from Carol Doyle's solidly built script, is not all Merchant-Ivory prettiness. Below the lustrous surface, reality bites, though Holland takes her time in getting the film off the ground. Once the movie picks up pace, it settles in nicely, and the result is an engrossing, dramatic work. Fans of the book may at last find a film that does justice to the work; it's a fine, intricate film that demands one's attention.”
Paul Fischer



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JENNIFER JASON-LEIGH

WASHINGTON SQUARE (PG)
(UK)

CAST: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin, Maggie Snith, Judith Ivey, Betsy Brantley, Jennifer Garner, Peter Maloney, Robert Stanton

DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Holland

PRODUCER: Roger Birnbaum, Julie Bergman Sender

SCRIPT: Carol Doyle (based on the novel by Henry James)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jerzy Zielinski

EDITOR: David Siegel

MUSIC: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Allan Starski

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 27, 1998







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