Lily (Gillian Anderson) is a ravishing socialite who takes her charm and beauty for granted. For one, she thinks she’s way better than a lot of those around her and while she’s not necessarily wrong, said beauty and charm does start to bring all sorts of interest her way in the form of men, but it also brings upon jealousy in the form of the fellow women who surround her and can’t stand the fact that she gets so many eyes towards her ways. And just like a lady did back in the day, she seeks a wealthy husband and, in trying to conform to social expectations, she misses her chance for real love with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), a man she think she’s better than, even though he thinks that they would be perfect, no matter what. Eventually, her search for a husband takes her to many different men and prospects, none of whom quite work out once Lily is accused of having an affair with a married-man, not just making her bad news, but also an outcast from the rest of the socialites who she used to wine and dine with so often.
The best period-pieces are the ones that, no matter how old the tales in them are, or are taking place, still hold some relevancy in today’s day and age and can be looked at through the modern-eye. The House of Mirth is such a period-piece, in which we get a classic tale of a woman trying to find love, be rich, and relaxed for the rest of her life, which isn’t all that relevant nowadays, but sooner or later, eventually does. To say that the House of Mirth takes a turn for pure darkness about halfway through wouldn’t be necessarily such a spoiler, because it’s a story that’s been around for many years and it’s also quite obvious by a certain point just where the story itself is actually headed.
But there’s still something about its deep dive into sadness and darkness that still sticks with me.
And honestly, it’s a true testament to writer/director Terence Davies, who not only has a knack for nailing the period-details to this story down perfectly, but also knows how to make each and every one of these characters, inherently interesting just in the way that they are. Sure, watching a movie where a bunch of rich people bicker, eat, drink, dance, take long walks, and gossip, may not seem like the most entertaining two hours ever put to screen, but somehow, Davies makes it all click and pop off of the screen. He doesn’t take these characters, or this story, as a product of its time, but instead, a product of any time, where rich people sneer at those who they feel are lesser than them, for sometimes awfully silly and ridiculous reasons.
Which is why the House of the Mirth, both the source-material, as well as the movie, still work, way beyond most other period-pieces do. It’s a tale of love, sure, but it’s also a rather chilling, disturbing tale of one person’s descent into sheer madness and depression, and just how that can all happen, solely through people’s words and actions. It follows a very clear path early on and never really strays away from it, but the path is compelling to watch; we know where the story is headed, but to watch it all play out, as sad as it can sometimes get, honestly, is hard to turn away from. It’s like a train-crash you see from a mile away, can’t do anything about, and for some reason, you don’t want to miss the end-result of.
Okay, so that maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get my point.
And of course, the movie works as well as it does because Davies has assembled a pretty solid ensemble here, what with Gillian Anderson leading the charge as the complex and heartbreaking Lily Bart, a character we get to know, love, and feel so much sympathy for over the two hours. Anderson has always been a very strong actress and it’s interesting to see her here, because she has to show so much emotion, by barely showing much at all; it’s the kind of stuffy, yet, subtle performance so many actresses try to work with and nail, that Anderson does so flawlessly here. Watching her try to navigate through life, as well as all of these various people around her, can truly be hard-to-watch, but she always stays rich, true and honest, and it’s why her character works as well as it does, all issues aside.
Eric Stoltz also has a nice role as the love of Lily’s life who, for some reason, she doesn’t ever come around to loving because she think she’s better than him; Anthony LaPaglia plays another possible suitor for Lily who, may or may not, have the best intentions in mind; Dan Aykroyd gives a truly surprising and shocking performance as a married-man who instantly takes a liking to Lily and wants to help her out in any way that he can, with obvious strings attached; Terry Kinney plays a very similar character; Laura Linney plays a married-woman who doesn’t take so much of a liking to Lily’s naughty ways; and the same goes for Elizabeth McGovern.
Basically, everyone here is evil, sick, or twisted. But hey, they’re rich, so they’re able to get away with.
Consensus: As stuffy and blase as it may start, the House of Mirth soon turns into a sad, shocking and rather upsetting tale of class and gender roles that still feels relevant.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian