I can’t resist comparing a movie to the original book, can you? And this week I watched the 1993 adaptation of The Age of Innocence (read my review here). Edith Wharton won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book, which was first published in 1920.
The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, Michelle Pfeiffer as Countess Ellen Olenska and Wynona Ryder as May Welland. Like the book, the movie portrays a period of time on the verge of change and in which the New York upper class clings to appearances, convention and the subtle, but highly important details that define them.
The story revolves around Newland Archer, his wife May Welland and May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who has just returned from Europe after a disastrous marriage. 1870s sparks fly between Newland and Ellen and the families use their powerful influence to avoid scandal, thwart the romance and save May’s marriage. This is a world in which the power of wealth depends on appearances and good manners.
I enjoyed watching this movie, which has beautiful costumes. It’s no surprise that the film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Equally impressive is the great attention to detail inside these upper class New York homes: the paintings, décor and dainty food served on beautiful china, depicted in almost every scene.
While the movie is very true to the book and gives a great visual of the characters and elite society, I thought that the rest of the film was, uh, a bit slow. Muted and subtle dialogue may be out of style for modern movie goers, where instant gratification, special effects and constant excitement make up the formula for today’s films. That makes this movie a little dated.
On the up side, Wynona Ryder’s excellent portrayal of May Welland earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. It was well-deserved: I could see a knowing calculation in Ryder’s face in one of the most important scenes of the story, in which she reveals her pregnancy to Newland.
I recommend the film to fans of romantic period pieces, a nice movie for a rainy Sunday.
I read The Age of Innocence as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a book that was made into a movie.
What are your favorite book-to-movie combos?
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