In 1973, two movies were made of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House: One starred Jane Fonda and one starred Claire Bloom as the 19th-century rebel housewife, Nora. This week they’re in competition once more, as Bloom’s A Doll’s House joins Fonda’s on the video store shelf.
The Fonda version, which opens up the play by using shots of the great Norwegian outdoors, is a trifle livelier to look at. In the Bloom version, director Patrick Garland (working with a script adapted by Christopher Hampton of Dangerous Liaisons fame), simply captures the brooding 1971 Broadway performance of the play on film.
This is the one to watch, for two reasons. First, its stagey sense of confinement perfectly serves a story whose whole point is the way society closes in on a housebound woman. The audience must experience Nora’s cabin fever or they won’t feel her relief when she slams that door behind her in the famous finale. Second, the acting is nonpareil. Anthony Hopkins is wonderfully smug as Nora’s stifling banker husband, Denholm Elliott scuttles with reptilian grace as the bitter underling who blackmails him, and Sir Ralph Richardson is most ghostly as the banker’s doomed friend Dr. Rank.
The main attraction, however, is Bloom. Check out the play of emotions across her face as she subtly examines the effect of her wifely wiles on her insufferably stuffy hubby. Bloom is exquisitely precise where Fonda is broadly approximate. Their respective Noras demonstrate the difference between an artist and a movie star. A-