The Golden Bowl (film)

The Golden Bowl

Original poster
Directed by James Ivory
Produced by Ismail Merchant
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on The Golden Bowl
by Henry James
Starring Kate Beckinsale
James Fox
Anjelica Huston
Nick Nolte
Jeremy Northam
Madeleine Potter
Uma Thurman
Music by Richard Robbins
Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts
Edited by John David Allen
Distributed by Lionsgate
Release dates
  • 13 September 2000 (2000-09-13) (France)
  • 3 November 2000 (2000-11-03) (United Kingdom)
  • 27 April 2001 (2001-04-27) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $5,753,678[1]

The Golden Bowl is a 2000 drama film directed by James Ivory. The screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is based on the 1904 novel of the same name by Henry James, who considered the work his masterpiece.[2]


Dignified but impoverished aristocrat Prince Amerigo, whose illustrious Italian family occupies the decaying Palazzo Ugolini in Florence, is engaged to American socialite Maggie Verver. She shares an extremely close relationship with her millionaire father Adam, a retired widowed tycoon living in England who intends to finance the construction of a museum to house his invaluable collection of art and antiquities in an American city.

Prior to their engagement, and unbeknownst to his fiancée, Amerigo had a long and passionate affair with Charlotte Stant, who attended school with Maggie. The two separated because of his lack of funds, but Charlotte is still in love with him. When she receives an invitation to the wedding, she seizes the opportunity to reunite with him, which she does at a party thrown by Maggie's aunt, Fanny.

A few days before the ceremony, Amerigo and Charlotte wander into an antique store in search of a wedding gift from her to the couple. Proprietor A.R. Jarvis shows them an ancient bowl, carved from a single piece of rock crystal and embroidered with gold, he asserts is flawless. Charlotte is indecisive about buying it, and Jarvis offers to set it aside until she can make up her mind.

Despite knowing Amerigo and Charlotte's history, Maggie's meddlesome Aunt Fanny suggests the young woman and Adam would be a perfect match. The two eventually wed, much to the delight of Maggie, who had been concerned about her father's loneliness. The two couples find their lives closely interlocked, although the fact Maggie and Adam spend so much time together irritates their spouses, and when they find themselves at a weekend party in the country without their mates, Charlotte and Amerigo rekindle their affair. Fanny becomes aware of the illicit romance but, wanting to protect her niece from being hurt, says nothing. As time passes, however, Maggie becomes suspicious of the amount of time her husband and stepmother spend together.

In search of an unusual gift for her father, who seemingly has everything, Maggie chances to wander into Jarvis' shop, and he shows her the bowl he had set aside for Charlotte years ago. Maggie agrees to buy it for £300 and asks that it be delivered to her home. When Jarvis discovers a barely discernible crack in the piece, he decides to bring it to Maggie himself, reveal the defect, and offer it to her for £150 instead. While waiting for her in the drawing room, he recognizes Amerigo and Charlotte in photographs on a table, and he innocently reveals they were the couple who originally considered purchasing the bowl, three days before the wedding, which Maggie always has believed was the first time her husband and friend met. The object suddenly becomes a symbol of adultery rather than a beautiful work of art, and Fanny intentionally drops it on the floor, hoping her niece will dispose of the pieces.

Maggie is not willing to forget what it represents, and as everyone avoids publicly discussing what each one of them privately knows, she sets to work, gently pushing her father and Charlotte closer together while finding ways of engaging with Amerigo. With Fanny's assistance, she is successful in convincing Adam to accelerate his plans and leave for the American city much earlier than planned. Charlotte, loathing the idea, resists and begins making a fool of herself in private and in public, but Amerigo gains a new respect for Maggie and allows himself to be led away from Charlotte. Against Amerigo and Fanny's advice, Maggie makes a final attempt to reconcile with Charlotte on the eve of her departure, but Charlotte haughtily rebuffs her and continues to deny the truth behind recent events. As Maggie and Amerigo settle into their marriage at last, a newsreel shows Adam and an over-dressed Charlotte adapting to their new life in "American City".



Director Ivory, producer Merchant, and screenwriter Jhabvala previously collaborated on screen adaptations of the Henry James novels The Europeans and The Bostonians.

The film was shot at various locations throughout England, including Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, Burghley House in Lincolnshire, Helmingham Hall in Suffolk, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum and Syon House in Middlesex, and Lancaster House and Mansion House in London. Italian locations included Palazzo Borghese in Artena and Prince Massimo's Castle in Arsoli.

The soundtrack includes "Moonstruck" by Lionel Monckton and Ivan Caryll, "Sarabande" by Claude Debussy, and "Wall Street Rag" by Scott Joplin.


The film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and when it received a cool reception, executives at Miramax Films, the original distributor, asked Ivory and Merchant to make several cuts to shorten its running time. When they refused, the company sold the film to Lions Gate.[2]

The film opened throughout Europe before going into limited release in the US on 27 April 2001, following an earlier showing at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It opened on five screens and earned $90,170 on its opening weekend. At its widest release in the US it played in 117 theatres. It eventually grossed $3,050,532 in the US and $2,703,146 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $5,753,678.[1]

Critical reception

The Golden Bowl received mixed to positive reviews; it currently holds a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "Coming from the Merchant-Ivory team, The Golden Bowl is visually stunning, but the filmmakers have difficulty in transporting the characterizations of the Henry James novel to the screen."[3]

The New York Times observed, "In translating the novel into a film, the producer Ismail Merchant, his directing partner, James Ivory, and their favorite screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, have made a movie that's an ambitious, profoundly ambiguous statement about their own passion for the cultivated, high-culture sensibility epitomized by James and E.M. Forster, as opposed to the cruder mass culture that has eclipsed these literary heroes . . . Much of the dialogue in Ms. Jhabvala's carefully wrought screenplay voices feelings that remain unspoken in the novel, and this is the movie's biggest problem. No matter how well the characters' thoughts have been translated into speech, the act of compressing their rich, complex inner lives into dialogue without resorting to voice-over narration inevitably tends to cheapen them and turn a drama about the revelation of hidden truths into the terser, more commonplace language of an intelligent soap opera."[2]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "I admired this movie. It kept me at arm's length, but that is where I am supposed to be; the characters are after all at arm's length from each other, and the tragedy of the story is implied but never spoken aloud. It will help, I think, to be familiar with the novel, or to make a leap of sympathy with the characters."[4]

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "impeccably mounted, nicely scored and beautifully written" and noted, "Charlotte wasn't the principal character in James' 1904 novel . . . but in the film version . . . she takes center stage. Played by the long-necked Uma Thurman, she's less vixen than ninny - a smooth operator whose maneuvers seem to issue not from shrewdness or intelligence but from a microchip that allows her to robotically spout her lines with careful inflection. It's a blunder of a performance, and makes the viewer wish that Ivory had cast a more accomplished actress - Kate Winslet, perhaps, or Cate Blanchett - who could give dimension to the character and indicate subtext in a way that Thurman can't."[5]

Mike Clark of USA Today rated the film two out of four stars and commented, "Too many dialogue exchanges sound like actors reading lines, and even the film's better performers seem to be acting in a vacuum. The movie establishes good will (or even great will) in the initial scenes because it's so gorgeous, but the rest is such a slog that even the revealed significance of the title artifact elicits a shrug."[6]

Emanuel Levy of Variety called the film "vastly uneven, with some wonderful period touches but also more than a few tedious moments," "tasteful, diffident and decorous," and "a deliberately paced literary film that takes too long to build narrative momentum and explore its central dramatic conflicts." He added, "James' deft portrait of human frailty and his experimentation in narrative mode only intermittently find vivid expression in the work of Ivory and screenwriter Prawer Jhabvala. Everything in the film, particularly in the last reel, is spelled out in an explicit, literal manner . . . Production values, particularly Andrew Sanders' design and John Bright's costumes, are exquisite, but they decorate a film that's too slow and only sporadically involving."[7]

Awards and nominations

James Ivory was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.[8] Production designer Andrew Sanders won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Technical/Artistic Achievement.

Home media

The Region 1 DVD was released on 6 November 2001. The film is in anamorphic widescreen format, with audio tracks in English and French, and subtitles in English and Spanish. The only bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer.


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