"Oh that I had wings like a dove, then I could
fly away and be at rest."
It was an age of sincerity. Set in Europe in 1910, THE WINGS OF
THE DOVE, based on the Henry James novel, relates a tale of people who
are utterly sincere, albeit only on the surface. Below their placidfacades they seethe with repressed emotions and hatch elaborate plots
against one another.
"I don't believe in any of the things I write about," confesses
journalist Merton Densher, played earnestly by Linus Roache from
PRIEST. "I fake passion. I fake conviction."
When Merton asks his girlfriend Kate Croy, played with all the
complexity the part demands by that veteran of costume drama Helena
Bonham Carter, to spend the night, she refuses and explains why. "I'd
be penniless -- cast out of society," she tells him because her rich
aunt, played with aristocratic disdain by Charlotte Rampling, would cut
her off and throw her out.
Director Iain Softley, whose only other films are the mediocre
BACKBEAT and the painfully unwatchable HACKERS, succeeds marvelously
this time. "Three's a charm" as they say. But with top-notch actors
and a timeless story, he would have had to work hard to make it
If the movie sounds like Martin Scorsese's award winning THE AGE
OF INNOCENCE, it should. The time period and the study of restrainedresponses are similar, which is not to say the results are the same.
Scorsese's characters are untapped volcanoes, never erupting but always
on the verge. In contrast, as good as Softley's presentation is, and
it is quite good, his actors smolder rather than burn beneath their
calm exterior. Never in THE WINGS OF THE DOVE does a character seem
truly in danger of an unchecked explosion.
Any lack of perfection in the direction is more than made up by
the other members of the film's crew. THE ENGLISH PATIENT's Academy
Award winning composer Gabriel Yared provides an abundance of dramatic
music to punctuate almost every scene. JUDE's cinematographer Eduardo
Serra gives the film a strikingly handsome look. And most of all, John
Beard's sets are nothing short of breathtaking. Venice has never been
more lovely. From the canals lit by gondolas carrying torches to the
side streets and alleyways during a festival, the city has a heavenly
The heart of the story is a love triangle between Merton, Kate,
and a rich but sick American heiress, Milly Theale, played delicately
by Alison Elliott from THE SPITFIRE GRILL. The triangle involves love,
money, and deception. Another character, Lord Mark (Alex Jennings),
tries unsuccessfully to create his own triangle with Kate and Milly.
The excellent, but largely forgotten, actress Elizabeth McGovern
plays Milly's friend and traveling companion Susan. McGovern, from her
first film, the brilliant and devastating ORDINARY PEOPLE, has brought
something special to any character she has played, but her career has
never taken off. Her all too small part in THE WINGS OF THE DOVE is
unlikely change this.
"You don't understand me, and I don't understand you," complains
Merton to his true love Kate. The entire age was like that. People
avoided revealing themselves which guaranteed them little hope of being
understood. The picture's fascination comes from watching people in
torment over these social constraints.
THE WINGS OF THE DOVE runs 1:41. It is rated R for some sex and
nudity. The movie would be fine for teenagers. I strongly recommend
this moving story to you and give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes