Senior Staff Writer
The Wings of the Dove is a masterful story of love and compromise set against the scenic backdrop of turn-of-the-century Europe. Adapted from Henry James's novel of the same name, The Wings of the Dove captures the atmosphere without undermining the plot.
Wings is the story of a young Englishwoman, Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter), who is caught between the privileged life she enjoys and the man she loves, lowly journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache).
But this is not the normal uptown girl/downtown boy love story. Her aunt and benefactor (Charlotte Rampling) holds the key not only to Kate's place in society, but also to the safety and well-being of her destitute father (Michael Gambon).
As she faces this choice, American heiress Millie Theale (Alison Elliott) comes into their lives, providing an unexpected solution. When Kate discovers Millie's secret, that she's dying, she plans what seems like the perfect scenario.
Against the beautiful backdrop of Venice, a tragic love story unfolds that leaves all three in an unexpected, desperate situation.
The friendship between Kate and Millie is deep, yet they each hold their secrets until the end. Kate pursues her love and her status with equal passion, while Millie, who seemingly has everything, seems to ask nothing.
Kate is not the antagonist; she serves as an example of human nature. While in James' novel, Millie serves as only a pawn for the other characters, Elliott's Millie becomes a tragic character. She expresses her own pain and her own needs in a way appropriate to the late 20th century audience.
The film avoids making anyone the antagonist. Merton and Kate are simply lovers caught in overpowering emotions.
Carter is most appealing in her dark moments, as her facial expressions are brilliantly subtle; she can exude utter disdain with one eyebrow. The audience will believe that she both loves Millie and can easily deceive her.
As Merton, Roache is both ambivalent and passionate. Though he is not supposed to seem noble (after all, he's only a writer), he is forced into the most difficult situation and must make the most pivotal choice.
The sets and costumes are beautiful and realistic. Though Venice has very different meaning in the movie than in the novel, the color and character still represent the clash between the decadence of the modern world and a place that will never be free from the past.
The film is a little too short to develop all of the characters fully. While Kate's tragedy is apparent, Millie's disarming openness is never fully revealed. Elliott captures her personality well, but she stays ambiguous.
James historians won't be doing backflips over The Wings of the Dove, but for a film adapted from such a long, involved novel, director Iain Softley admirably weaves psychological themes with the visual panorama created by the setting.