The Golden Bowl (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A novel written by Henry James, direction by James Ivory, production by Ismail Merchant, the final screenplay written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Do I need to say anything more? Merchant and Ivory have created more than two dozen films together, a score of them scripted by Jhabvala. This is the third time the threesome has collaborated on a Henry James novel. The quality and nature of the projects are predictable. You can count on a costume drama about a grander day than today, from the 18th century until the early years of the 20th. Be prepared to hear lots of talk among members of the educated idle classes. You know the litany of their films: The Remains of the Day, Howards End, Jefferson in Paris, A Room With a View, The Bostonians. 

If those were your kind of films, then this probably will be as well. Given its provenance, you know it will be a little light on gunfights, car chases, and explosions. The most action in it occurs when somebody gives somebody else a very stern expression, and implies that they would criticize the other person, albeit too indirectly to be understood, if in fact criticism were permitted at their social level. Henry James's characters are generally quite subtle. The film does a good job with the source material, but I am in doubt about the inherent cinematic value of Big Hank's novels.

I'd like to see one adapted by Quentin Tarantino, starring Samuel L. Jackson as Lord Haversham-Smythe, 3rd Earl Of Exley. (Whoa, sorry! That reference may be too obscure. Does anyone know who Earl Exley was?)

I do say, my good Lord Smythe, have you seen my mother, Lady Jane Grey-Poupon?

Seen her? Yo, I was just pumpin' her sweet jumbo ass up 'n down my red velour-ass ottoman. Yo mamma some sweet sugar, but she gittin' kinda big. Yo mamma's butt so big she got Prince Albert in the Can, and he can't find his way out. His funny-beard ass is settin' up housekeeping in there, ordering out to Church's 'n shit. Hello, Church's Chicken, this is the Prince. Yeah. Yo, drop that mothafuckin "yo majesty" shit, and jus' deliver a small bucket of barbeque style to Lady Grey-Poupon's asshole, and speed yo humble ass up, u chicken-pluckin' peasant-ass mothafucka.


Here's the real story

Charlotte and Amerigo are passionate lovers from the penniless class of aristocratic families. They have good educations. He has a title. But he can't marry her because he has no money to maintain his estate. He must marry a rich woman. Charlotte is grief-stricken, because he is the passion and love of her life. Through a curious concatenation of circumstances, both coincidental and planned, the two lovers do end up married to rich people from the very same family. Charlotte marries her best friend's father, a rich American art collector, after Amerigo marries the man's daughter, Charlotte's best friend. Thus the lovers are assured of continuing propinquity, but Amerigo does not intend to dishonor his marriage. 

He fully intends to stay away from Charlotte and to keep his marriage vows with the rich American girl. Charlotte, on the other hand, does not have similar ideas. She wants him, and her persistence wears him down. 


none, but Uma Thurman is seen in a sex scene in which her nipples may be seen briefly through fabric, and her breasts may be seen down her blouse. Uma looked absolutely stunning in some scenes, by the way.

The dramatic tension in the story is generated by a manipulation of what they will do, who will find out, and who they will tell. When will the the daughter know that her friend has betrayed her? When her husband finds out that she knows, will he tell Charlotte or not? Exactly what does the rich American father know? 

As is typical of the era, indirection is the rule among these classes. Nobody confronts anybody with anything, but people will make metaphorical or allegorical comments which a guilty person might assume to have a double entendre, and which a curious person might therefore cast in the direction of someone to see if they react with guilt.

I've always felt that subtlety was overrated in general, but 130 minutes of this kind of subtlety is way the hell too much. This movie rambles, then it meanders, then it goes to America and moseys. It reaches a peak acceleration at approximately crawling speed, before slowing down to a speed only slightly slower than the shifting of tectonic plates. Oh, yes, and then the resolution is not very cathartic, so it is essentially 130 minutes of indirection leading not so merrily, merrily on our way to no place in particular.

On the other hand, it was well performed, I thought. The actors caught the subtleties of the oblique references and sidelong glances. Perhaps if it had moved more swiftly to a resolution, with less repetition and fewer irrelevant side-trips, I might recommend it to a broader audience, but as it is I have to say that it is purely for the Merchant-Ivory audience and devotees of Henry James. So straighten your derbies and adjust your monocles, my deal Nigels, and comport yourselves accordingly.

Oh, yes, the title. It refers to the incriminating piece of evidence. After some years of marriage, the daughter buys an antique golden bowl from a shop in London. Remember this takes place back in the days when the shop owners would deliver the merchandise personally to the rich set. When the delivery is made, the antique shop owner spies a picture of her husband and her best friend and says something like, "What a coincidence! Why, those are the very two lovers who almost bought the very same bowl nearly five years ago."

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1


Hey, London is a small town. It could happen.

The prose novel format didn't make a lot of progress from Defoe to James, and these sorts of  ludicrous coincidences were still considered reasonable plot twists. Compared to the coincidences employed by Hardy or Dickens, this one actually does seem believable. 

To add insult to injury, or in this case to add symbolism to coincidence, the golden bowl was cracked, an artifact that seemed perfect but was deeply flawed -  just like the rich American's marriage to the handsome Italian prince, get it? If you didn't get it, they will explain it to you.

 Several times. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, BBC 2/5, Apollo 73/100.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 49% positive.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3, Apollo users 77/100
  • With their dollars ... it did three million in the USA, far short of its $15 million budget. It performed with similar lack of luster in Spain and France - about $500,000 in each country. I haven't seen the UK results.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Impressive in many ways, but you'll want to yell "get on with it" at the screen. 

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