The Portrait of a Lady — remember it from school? — is Henry James’ masterwork. It is a story of moral complexities centering on one of the first truly modern literary heroines: Isabel Archer, an American in Europe who asserts her freedom but ends up caged in a marriage to a manipulator.
It is also a story in which the story line matters far less than the subtleties of language used in its telling. Hence the BBC tried adapting The Portrait of a Lady (1968) by filming a four-hour recitation of nearly every line in the novel. Yet even the most slavishly reproduced words become meaningless without the shading that good acting and direction contributes, and this film was drawn with a Magic Marker. (Ralph Touchett, the cousin who adores Isabel, is ugly and feeble in the book, while the film’s Richard Chamberlain is neither.) D