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Critics reviews
The House of Mirth
Terence Davies United Kingdom, 2000
Davies’ romantic style—with its sumptuous production design, graceful camera movements, and a musical flow of imagery—connotes a longing for something better than what we’re seeing, and this mood, sustained over the course of nearly two and a half hours, accumulates into a feeling of profound tragedy.
June 22, 2018
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Beneath its gorgeous, colour-saturated façade, rages a brutal, near-barbaric world of oppressive social rituals and expectations; a “horror movie”, where words are deadly weapons. In this way, and in its description of the strangulating effect of Lily Bart’s (Gillian Anderson) social alienation, The House of Mirth is an essential Davies film.
September 20, 2017
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Davies’ eye is inexplicably compassionate: both a reflection of and a response to the rules and conventions that prevent his heroes from seeing their longing realized. There is a warmth, a richness, even a sensuality to Davies’ style that is completely absent from the chilly, soulless grandeur of his new milieu.
August 14, 2012
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The formality of relationships, the harshly judgmental and moralizing repression of wide swaths of authentic emotion, the enforced rigidity of manners all combine to torment a free-spirited, open-hearted woman such as the movie’s protagonist—and also to inspire an ornamental graciousness, a sublime surface sheen, and an exquisite intricacy of artifice such as our own freer and less-inhibited age is unlikely to inspire.
October 05, 2011
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It’s so exquisitely wrought and seamlessly shaped that it almost needs to be scrutinized with a magnifying glass as though a diamond. The problem with such subtle artistry is that you actually need to be looking at it to notice its flawlessness.
December 06, 2009
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Davies produces a film less witty than Wharton’s book (though he has his moments), trying to achieve a certain lightness with very mannered behavior in the first act that misses the mark. What the film lacks in wit, it makes up for in soulfulness. Gillian Anderson is perfect, depicting an ordinary woman who has learned imperfectly what it takes to realize other people’s ambitions for her and who never achieves anything for herself but to maintain her self-respect.
April 10, 2009
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Observing that the decorum of gentile society often masks boundless barbarity and seething passions isn’t novel, but rubbing this up against the quiet elegance of Davies’s crisp aesthetic makes The House of Mirth amongst the best, queerest of all historical films.
April 03, 2009
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[Lily’s] attitude brings to mind William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience. Hunt was very much obsessed with social mores and, like Davies, his use of light and composition played an integral role in his aesthetic universe. Both Hunt’s painting and Davies’s film are hauntingly hung up on heroines possessed and suffocated not only by the people around them but the actual physical space they inhabit.
August 01, 2003
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Following Wharton’s lead, Davies presents a point of view that’s relentlessly downcast and bleak but far from staid, with sharp digressions into a brutal comedy of manners. Meticulously detailed and beautifully performed, The House Of Mirth may be branded conventional by Davies’ standards, but it’s an assured and welcome change of pace.
March 29, 2002
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Throughout the film, the overall union of voice, physical movement and visual design is devastating: every note of humiliation, degradation and self-deception is struck perfectly but without romantic emphasis, in a horrifying sonata of redemption denied.
June 13, 2001
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An absolutely exemplary literary costume drama—in that it captures what is enduring in its aged source material and extends profoundly into the present—Terence Davies’ The House of Mirth is one of the year’s best movies, and it’s no small amazement that one of the primary reasons why is Edith Wharton herself.
April 16, 2001
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Davies brings his elegant aestheticism to bear for the first time on a strong story line and succeeds superbly.
February 23, 2001
The happiest thing about Terence Davies’ “The House of Mirth” is that it’s such a mesmerizing downer. Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel was more than an exquisite chronicle of upper-echelon etiquette. It was, at its most forceful, parodic and vividly damning, an American tragedy. Davies (“Distant Voices, Still Lives,” “The Neon Bible”), here at his least florid and most unaffected, fashions an adaptation with an equal measure of damnation.
January 12, 2001
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With The House of Mirth , Mr. Davies has achieved that rarity of rarities in movies: an uncompromising chronicle of social failure by minute miscalculation and a stubborn adherence to principle at the wrong time. Whatever reservations one might have about Ms. Anderson’s early scenes of coquetry-and I have none-her final scenes of falling outside the society in which she once belonged are as harrowing and overpowering as anything I have seen this year.
January 08, 2001
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It comes as a nice surprise that a director like Terence Davies, himself no stranger to the cinematic still life, has the vision and the guts to lift Wharton’s The House of Mirth out of the funeral parlor of costume drama and into opera. Not the shrieky, all-stops-out kind, but a slow burn of cumulative pain ending in a private tragedy that’s also an indictment of a social system.
December 22, 2000
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It finds its best footing in the shadows, like a muted shimmer of light nestled in the dark folds of a John Singer Sargent painting. (It’s worth noting that Davies cast Anderson after seeing some still photographs of the actress that reminded him of Sargent’s portraits.) Davies’ touch is too delicate at times — a bit more forcefulness would keep the movie from slipping into lethargy — but he does allow his actors an expansive canvas on which to work, and all of them leap to the challenge.
December 22, 2000
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Davies feels and understands the story thoroughly, giving it a raw emotional immediacy that would be unthinkable in the shopper-friendly adaptations of Merchant-Ivory and their imitators, and the film’s feeling for decor and costumes, derived from both John Singer Sargent paintings and Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, is exquisite.
December 22, 2000
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The wide-screen mise-en-scène is superbly restrained; the colors are richly muted. Making strategic use of close-ups and studio process shots, Davies resists the idealizing soft-focus glamour or nostalgic ostentatious opulence of similar period adaptations to conjure up a stark turn-of-the-century New York from the Beaux Art buildings of contemporary Glasgow. It’s no fetishized lost world, but one that is fiercely, uncomfortably present.
December 20, 2000
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The film’s finest quality is its typically quiet attentiveness to tone of voice, posture, nuances of facial expression – Anderson proves herself a grand mistress of that most elusive look, the crestfallen. It’s a remarkable, if sometimes harrowing adaptation: beautifully intelligent, intelligently beautiful.
October 01, 2000
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