Helena Bonham Carter has always fitted seamlessly into any period film backdrop. Indeed, from her early films, including A Room with a View and Howard’s End, Bonham Carter has become known for her success in portraying wrought emotions in staid, relatively repressed periods. Whilst she may not wish to become known as a ‘corset queen’, seemingly doing her utmost to dispel such an image with films like Fight Club and Planet of the Apes, Bonham Carter has the look and acting ability to bring classic literature to life.
Based on the novel by Henry James, The Wings of the Dove is a beautiful film both in terms of its cinematography, chosen locations, storyline and its acting quality.
Kate Croy (Bonham Carter) has chosen to leave her working class roots behind. Taken on as a ward by her Aunt Maude, who never approved of Kate’s fathers social standing, Kate is being introduced to the high society that she should have been born into. Yet despite Kate’s obvious desire for money, she has not been able to leave behind her lower class lover Merton Densher (played by Linus Roache) who she is now forced to meet with illicitly.
Discovering that her new American friend Mille (played by Alison Elliot), a wealthy heiress, is terminally ill, Kate sets about enticing Merton to seduce Millie in order for herself and Merton to finally marry through the successful acquisition of Millie’s inheritance.
What is then set in motion is a beautifully filmed drama, in which repressed emotions undercurrent social standing, indeed its pacing lends itself to this slow burning tension. It would appear director Iain Softleyhas made a conscious decision to show those of a higher social standing to be more repressed than their lower class counter parts. It is only with Merton that Kate is herself.
The cinematography of the film is simply stunning, especially the night scenes in Venice; the costumes too are beautifully made and in my opinion Helena Bonham Carter has never looked or acted better. It is obvious why Bonham Carter was Oscar nominated for the film: she succeeds in playing a complex character torn between what are effectively two worlds. The scene, in which Kate writes a letter to Merton expressing her fear that through acting on her plan he will fall in love with Millie, is almost heartbreaking to watch. We can truly understand her pain, yet we also understand that this is a pain of her own design.
All in all ‘The Wings of the Dove’ is to be highly recommended, darker than your normal period drama and indeed more relatable to modern day society, as the film looks at the darker side of the human condition: manipulation and jealously.
The final love scene is incredibly emotive, the viewer can almost see the pain etched on the protagonists’ faces, and indeed it is interesting that during an act of complete and utter intimacy the two lovers have never been further apart from one another.