Director: James Ivory
Writer: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on: Henry James‘ novel
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, Madeleine Potter, Jessica Tandy, Wesley Addy, Linda Hunt, Wallace Shawn
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2015
Olive Chancellor (Vanessa Redgrave) is an outspoken and enthusiastic feminist, and as such deeply suspicious to her cousin Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), a conservative lawyer from New York who is visiting her in Boston. Despite Basil’s distrust of the feminist movements, Olive takes him to an event where they hear Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) gives a speech on the subject. Both Olive and Basil are fascinated by Verena – in Basil’s case despite of what she’s saying. As Basil returns to New York, Olive takes Verena under her wings, grooming her as a feminist fighter. But Basil, too, can’t stop thinking about her.
The Bostonians bored me to pieces. The cast wasn’t bad, but the plot left me completely bewildered and annoyed.
I can totally understand why somebody would find Christopher Reeve attractive (his Superman, or rather Clark Kent, was one of my first crushes), even when what comes out of his mouth is belittling, offensive, disrespectful to everything you think is important – at least he’s hot and thinks you’re hot, too. But why it would move beyond a mere “he’s a handsome asshole” to a “I actually like him and maybe I should marry him” remained a complete mystery to me, making Verena an undecipherable character that I couldn’t relate to anymore.
And frankly, the ending just sucked. I haven’t read the novel, but apparently it ends on the high note that Verena runs away with Basil, crying her eyes out and James promises that it won’t be the last tears that she cries. Well hoofuckingray. Of course women have to choose between their own happiness, their voice, their politics and the man they love. At least in the film we get another few minutes of Olive giving her own speech about how the feminist fight is far from over, only because they lost one fighter in Verena.
But without any sense of why Verena would actually want to go with Basil, the entire plot becomes entirely absurd – when it isn’t boring, that is. For huge chunks of the film, I had to really pull myself together to pay attention to what was happening on screen. And that despite Christopher Reeve.
I think they tried for a feminist reading of James’ book, they tried to explore Olive’s implied homosexuality (without going so far as making Verena actually bisexual or making it an explicit romantic love between the women). But to me, the film utterly fails in making sense of its characters – and if that doesn’t work, nothing else will.