Title: The House of Mirth
Country: UK, France, Germany
Language: English, French
Genre: Romance, Drama
Director: Terence Davies
Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
This Terence Davies emotive period drama could be a sterling double-bill with THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), which is the penultimate film I have watched. Last year I hold my underwhelmed apathy towards Davies’ THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2011), my first Davies film entry, but a closer DVD viewing of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH greatly galvanizes my affinity to Edith Wharton’s convoluted story of a woman’s inept battle with the hypocrites and the iniquitous of the well-heeled echelon near the beginning of 20th century in New York, it is the dramatic demise of an unsullied soul, there is no mirth at all.
Anderson’s Lily, an ill-fitted maiden of upper class, sustained by her wealthy aunt Julia’s (a ghastly Bron) charity, balks between her passionate desire with a lower class lawyer Lawrence (Stoltz) and her promising marriage with an upstart Sim (LaPaglia), to whom she has no feelings at all, meanwhile a bad investment or a guileless trust to the wrong man (Aykroyd) corners her into a financial predicament, which subsequently creates discord between her and Julia and eventually will cost her the endowment of the inheritance. That’s not enough, she is also manipulated to be the pull-upon by her friend Bertha (Linney), while the most excruciating fact is that Lily has the substantial evidence to give Bertha the tit-for-tat, but she can never make up her mind to do it (out of self-respect or the dread of destroying Lawrence’s reputation since he is the other partaker in the affair). So Lily is a woman of dignity, even when she is utterly at the end of her tether (she has to take a menial job to earn a living, which she will be dismissed for her incompetence), she refuses to take Sim’s succor, her ill-fated life succumbs to a plaintive dirge of an irreversible tragedy.
Davies conducts the film adeptly with elegant costumes, shady light compositions, the interior murkiness augurs the dark-amber and midnight-blue tinctures in THE DEEP BLUE SEA, grants melancholy its most suffocating ambiance to submerge audiences’ compassion, the score of classical orchestra makes the story even more poignant.
The film is also a victory for its cast, Gillian Anderson (I have never watched the X-FILE series and its movie spinoffs), under the bridle of the corset, most of her time her breath is visibly confined into an asphyxiated discomfort just like her character’s situation, performance-wise, it may be her once-of-a-lifetime glory, carries out the emotional roller coaster throughout, shamefully it is less acknowledged. Eric Stolz, whose tender tune undergirds his man-child debonair, shows his best form as the man who fails to save his beloved woman. Laura Linney, pretty much nails the virulence and slyness in this less-known work. Jodhi May is great in turning on the waterworks but her character overall has been skated over.
Admittedly I have a predilection towards period dramas, and I may miss out some literal undertones of the proficiently organized conversations by Wharton and the dramaturge (Davies himself), but the film is so close in my top 10 list in such a strong year.